Bee venom acupuncture (BVA) is a bizarre form of acupuncture where bee venom is applied via a bee sting or an injection into acupuncture points. The paper below starts with the sentence: “BVA is an effective treatment method for various diseases.” This clearly is not true. In fact, there is no convincing evidence that it is effective for any condition. In addition, it can cause serious harm, even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

With this review, Korean authors tried to estimate the incidence rate of anaphylaxis in response to BVA.

The investigators searched eight databases (MEDLINE (Pubmed), EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled, KISS, KMBASE, Koreamed, OASIS, and NDSL) and systematically reviewed the articles that met the inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Among 225 potentially relevant articles, 49 were selected for this study. The overall incidence rate of anaphylaxis in response to BVA was 0.045% (95% CI 0.028-0.062). Women (0.083%, 95% CI 0.010-0.157) showed a higher incidence rate than men (0.019%, 95% CI -0.018 to 0.055), while the incidence for patients who had a skin test conducted (0.041%, 95% CI 0.011-0.072) was not significantly different compared to that obtained for patients for which there was no information about a skin test (0.047%, 95% CI 0.026-0.067). The publication year affected the incidence rate: it was highest before 1999 (1.099%, 95% CI -1.043 to 3.241), lower between 2000 and 2009 (0.049%, 95% CI 0.025-0.073), and lowest between 2010 and 2021 (0.037% 95% CI 0.014-0.060).

The authors concluded that, in this study, we provide reference data about risk size and factors of BVA-related anaphylaxis, which is essentially required for BVA application in clinics.

I fail to understand why this review included only observational studies and RCTs. Why not case reports? We would need a proper post-marketing surveillance system to obtain reliable incidence figures. Yet, such a system does not exist. Therefore, the data generated by this paper are next to worthless.

All this article does, is confirm that anaphylactic reactions after BVA are a reality. As the treatment has not been proven to be effective for any condition, its risk/benefit balance turns out to be negative. In other words, we should therefore not use BVA.

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