Television

Can a Single Bee Sting Really Kill You Like on Bridgerton?

We asked an expert.

Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton sits on a horse. A cartoon bee flies toward him.
No! No!!!! Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Nick Briggs/Netflix and Vitalii Barida/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

This post contains spoilers for Bridgerton Season 2.

If you’ve seen the third episode of Bridgerton Season 2, you know that Edmund Bridgerton, patriarch of the Bridgerton clan and Anthony’s father, dies tragically after getting stung by a bee. It got us wondering: Can a bee sting really kill you that fast? Was there any way Anthony could have saved his father? And how risky is the other, more infamous bee sting scene from the book? We did our best to provide the answers below—with some help from an expert.

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Anthony’s dad bit the dust pretty quickly after he got stung. Is that normal? 

In the show, it took about a minute. Severe allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, can happen extremely quickly. I talked to Dr. Purvi S. Parikh, an infectious disease and allergy specialist at NYU Langone Health, who told me that it is “typical of anaphylaxis that it happens in the first few minutes,” though “the one minute to death is a little dramatic.”

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Well, several minutes of watching a man suffer an allergic reaction doesn’t exactly sound like gripping TV. Is there anything the other characters could have done to help him?

Nowadays, we have EpiPens, an epinephrine delivery system that can stop anaphylaxis if you inject yourself or someone else having a reaction. Since anaphylaxis can take very little time to manifest, you want to do that injection as soon as possible.

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Papa Bridgerton, unfortunately, died in the early 19th century—way before EpiPens were invented. (They were first approved by the FDA in the late 1980s, if you’re curious.) The term allergy wouldn’t even be used until 1906. Parikh did say that there are other ways of helping a patient besides epinephrine, like providing steroids or antihistamines, but those were also more than a century away.

In the book The Viscount Who Loved Me, it’s mentioned that this wasn’t the first time Edmund had been stung—he was stung once before and he was fine. Julia Quinn, the author, says in the afterword that it takes two stings to know if you’re allergic. Does that check out?

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It can take two stings for sure. Parikh told me that your immune system has to get exposed to something more than once for an allergy to develop: “Your immune system has to see something at least one time, and then it can decide whether it likes it or doesn’t, and then on the second time, it can have severe reaction.” So if you get stung once, you might not notice much of a reaction, but the second time could be much worse.

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Wait, I’ve been stung by a bee before. How worried should I be?

Don’t take medical advice from Regency romances, no matter how well the author did her research! Parikh told me that while it does take multiple stings to trigger a reaction, a bee sting allergy like Edmund’s is actually pretty rare: “The majority of people who get stung once don’t develop the allergy.” But also, maybe don’t try to get stung?

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OK, I’ll try not to bother any bees. But this is all making me wonder: If Edmund had a severe bee allergy, what about Anthony? Is he going to be allergic too?

Not necessarily. Parikh did say that if you have a family member with any allergy, your risk of developing an allergy (again, to anything!) is higher, but it’s not a done deal that Anthony will also have a severe bee allergy. It’s not a simple Punnett Square calculation—the genetics are a bit more complicated.

That said, maybe in the book Anthony should not have been so quick to try to suck out the venom out of Kate’s chest when she also gets a bee sting …

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I’m sorry, Anthony does what in the book?

As you know if you’ve seen the show, Kate gets stung by a bee, and Anthony, traumatized by his father’s death, freaks out and needs to be reassured she’s OK. But in the book, he really, really freaks out: He tries to suck the venom from the sting right out of her chest. With his mouth. Scandalous! But, in an act of what can only be described as cowardice, Netflix doesn’t depict this.

Would sucking out the venom even help?

Parikh said it could do something to lessen the amount of venom that enters Kate’s system, but after the sting, the venom has already been absorbed. Anthony’s … response could maybe help, but it won’t completely reverse the effects of the sting. And it probably wasn’t worth the looks Kate got when he finished up.

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Wait, what if Anthony is allergic to bee stings? Isn’t he kind of risking it all here?

Hey, maybe you would too if your father had died and you were terrified of the same fate befalling your love interest! That said, Parikh said it is indeed possible that he’s putting himself at risk. It’s not clear in the book if Anthony spits out the venom or swallows it, but Parikh said that “some may get into his body even if he doesn’t swallow it just through absorption in his mouth, so yeah, of course he’s exposing himself.”

So to summarize: Be grateful EpiPens were invented, leave bees alone, and don’t suck venom out of your unmarried lady friend’s bosom without her consent?

You’ve learned well.

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