How a Norfolk woman’s wasp allergy is being cured - by medics who inject her with venom

Common wasp. Pic by Jonathan Lewis, Norfolk Wildlife Photography Common wasp. Pic by Jonathan Lewis, Norfolk Wildlife Photography

Saturday, January 25, 2014
6:00 AM

An afternoon picking blackberries turned into a near-death experience for Nina Anstee when she went into anaphylactic shock after a wasp sting.

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Bruce Tofield and Nina Anstee on their wedding dayBruce Tofield and Nina Anstee on their wedding day

But the Norfolk woman, who was saved by the quick response of the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), has revealed that she is looking forward to walks in the countryside without worry after having treatment to cure her wasp sting allergy - by being injected with small doses of venom.

The psychotherapist from Kenninghall, in south Norfolk, praised air ambulance responders and NHS staff after she collapsed after suffering a wasp sting in September 2011.

Ms Anstee was rushed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by the air ambulance and after 24 hours of treatment did not suffer any long-term medical effects.

However, the psychological ones were more life-changing and after considering how her sudden death may have affected her family, Ms Anstee and her long-term partner Bruce Tofield got married last year after 20 years together.

Unusual allergies

All food and drink

This medical condition is so rare that science has yet to name it. People affected can only safely consume water.

Mobile phone

Allergists and dermatologists are seeing an increasing number of “mobile phone rashes” - itchy, red bumps or painful blisters along the jaw, cheek and ear. It is actually a nickel allergy.

Kissing

For someone with severe food, cosmetic or medicinal allergies, close physical contact and the sharing of saliva can be deadly.

Water

About 40 people worldwide have been diagnosed with the condition known as aquagenic urticaria - the skin breaks out in a painful rash and welts.

Cold / Heat

People with cold urticaria are allergic to cold temperatures, and exposure can cause their skin to turn red, swell and itch. People with heat urticaria develop itchy, red, swollen skin and welts when they are exposed to temperatures above 43C (109F).

Exercise

About 1,000 people suffer from exercise-induced anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction caused by physical exertion. It may be related to eating certain foods or taking specific medications before exercise.

Touch

People with dermatographia are sensitive to pressure and touch. It is estimated that up to 5pc of the population has it.

Modern living

Tasks like talking on a mobile phone, cleaning the bathroom or driving a car can make a person with multiple chemical sensitivity experience headaches and flu-like symptoms when exposed to things like perfume, laundry detergent or electromagnetic fields.

The couple asked guests to donate to their two favourite charities, the East Anglian Air Ambulance and Kids Company, at their wedding at the Pennoyer Centre in Pulham St Mary last June.

The grandmother said she no longer worried when she saw a wasp after having treatment at the desensitisation clinic at Guy’s Hospital in London.

Click here to read about the Stowmarket mum who is allergic to nearly all things Christmas

Ms Anstee said she had always known she had a strong allergic reaction to stings and insect bites, but had never suffered an anaphylactic shock before. Tests at the London hospital revealed that she had a very strong sensitivity to wasp venom. She began treatment in the spring of 2012, which started with a very tiny dose of venom injected into her arm. After three years she hopes to stop the course of treatment. Each week the dose was increased a bit, until she could tolerate 1.5 wasp sting equivalents without a “whole body” reaction.

She said: “Some people think all these visits to a clinic are too much of a nuisance. I disagree. I want to be able to go for a walk in the countryside without worrying that I might be too far away from a doctor to get help. Using an epi-pen injector is designed to keep you going for about 15 minutes while help gets to you. The point of the desensitising treatment is that you do not react in this life-threatening way again. It gives peace of mind and freedom of movement which nothing else can give you. So I think it is a wonderful thing to be offered by the NHS.”

“As instructed I still carry my epi-pen and wear a medical bracelet. But I no longer worry if I see a wasp. Bruce however, keeps a fly swatter in each room and has a vendetta against all wasps.”

Ms Anstee said she was lucky that her partner had accompanied her on the day she went picking fruit near Millennium Wood, Kenninghall, and that they were carrying a mobile phone. The air ambulance arrived within four minutes of Dr Tofield phoning 999. She received adrenalin and oxygen in hospital.

“I am hugely grateful to EAAA for their help. I realise that without them, and of course the N&N A&E, I would almost certainly not have survived,” she said.

The EDP launched an appeal to help the air ambulance save more lives by raising more money for vital new equipment.

The campaign, dubbed East Anglian Air Ambulance Lifesaver Appeal, was aimed at helping the charity raise funds for things such as blood analysers that cost £5,000 each, an ultrasound machine, costing £20,000, and two baby ventilators, which will cost approximately £10,000 for both.

The charity’s lead doctors specifically asked for the new equipment as they strive to continually improve what the crews can do to help the most seriously ill and injured patients.

Cheques, made payable to the “East Anglian Air Ambulance”, should be sent to Eastern Daily Press appeal, East Anglian Air Ambulance, Hangar E, Gambling Close, Norwich Airport, Norwich NR6 6EG.

For further details about the charity, visit www.eaaa.org.uk or call 01603 489406.

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