Study finds immunotherapy against bee stings incomplete

A recent study raises concern as to whether allergy shots contain enough bee venom allergens to force the body to get accustomed to the poison and end excessive reaction.
By Amy Wallace   |   May 16, 2017 at 12:28 PM

May 16 (UPI) -- A new study by the German Research Center for Environmental Health has found that immunotherapy against bee stings may be incomplete in some cases.

Allergen-specific immunotherapy, or allergy shots, involves injecting very small amounts of bee venom under a patient's skin to force the body to get accustomed to the poison and end excessive reaction.

Researchers found some preparations of allergy shots contained up to three of the five allergens were present at levels that were low.

"Allergic reactions to insect venoms are potentially life-threatening and constitute one of the most severe hypersensitivity reactions," Dr. Simon Blank, research leader at the Center of Allergy & Environment, or ZAUM, that collaborated with the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen German Research Center for Environmental Health, said in a press release.

"We now know that bee venom is a cocktail of many different substances. In particular, there are five components that are especially relevant for allergy sufferers. In our current investigation of commercial preparations, however, we were able to show that these so-called major allergens are not present everywhere at sufficient levels, and some allergens are seriously underrepresented."

Researchers could not state exactly what a difference in immunotherapy preparations means for overall therapeutic success.

The concern, researchers say, is whether the shots are effective when the specific bee venom allergens patients react to are possibly not at adequate levels in immunotherapy shots.

"The vast majority of patients benefit from such a treatment," Dr. Carsten Schmidt-Weber, director and professor at ZAUM, said. "A desirable objective that results from this work, however, would be for patients to receive a customized treatment in the future. This would be a preparation with exactly the allergens to which the particular patient actually reacts."

The study was published in Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics.

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