"Their venom is designed only to educate their enemies. It's not supposed to kill them," Berenbaum said. "Bee venom is designed to hurt you and for you to remember it." She said that there is a substance in the venom that promotes long-term memory.
Berenbaum said that most human deaths and serious injuries from bee stings happen to people who are allergic to the insect. But, if one is stung enough times, it can be lethal. She said that 10 stings per pound of body weight is lethal, so a person weighing 150 pounds would need to be stung roughly 1,500 times to be killed.
That is little comfort to Lamar Lacaze. The 65-year-old man was stung 1,200 times in September 2010 while mowing a field in Kyle, Texas.
If you are stung, it is best to remain calm and not wave your arms around, Bernbaum said. She also said to remove the stinger, not by squeezing, but by scraping it off with a fingernail or credit card. If you have trouble breathing, become dizzy or begin to swell, you should go to the hospital.
Pettis said that a change in public respect toward bees is the answer.
"In the really big picture, they're not a huge public health risk," he said.
In other countries where the strain is prevalent, including Mexico and Brazil, people have learned to give bees their space. "People learn to just give them a little more respect. They give them a little more room and we've just never had to give them that kind of respect."