Perhaps, instead of destroying the bacteria directly, the venom’s effect is indirect, kick-starting the immune system. Bee venom studies have shown promise in combating symptoms for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. According to Justin Schmidt, an insect venom expert at the Southwestern Biological Institute, in Tucson, it’s possible that when the immune system begins attacking itself, an injection of bee venom may help by providing an alternate target—“something to chew on,” he said, “and this tends to regulate the immune system so it does what it’s supposed to be doing, which is attack toxins that are getting into your body.” While Lyme is a bacterial infection, it sometimes mimics autoimmune disorders, and so maybe, somehow, similar rules apply.
It’s also possible that the pain of the stings plays a role. “Maybe the venom is doing something to kick off pain receptors,” he said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that other types of venom may also work this way. A brief article in the Lancet, from 1983, described a 43-year-old woman in Arizona who had MS and went into remission for two months following a scorpion sting on her right foot. An immunologist in Houston told me she was contacted by a physician experiencing progressive MS who said he’d been stung by a sea anemone and went into temporary remission.
This piece from Texas Monthly was mind-blowing. For one I had no idea that bee venom had a use for treating Lyme disease. The viability of the treatment is still unknown. The entire ritual of using bee-stingers has an Eastern-medicine quality to it (never mind the fact it kills our precious bee friends in the process). But, whatever works for treating the pain of Lyme is a win in my book. Even if it is a placebo, pain management is hard.