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Deaths from ‘murder’ hornet stings in US, elsewhere a hoax

Image of Facebook post claiming "murder" hornets are behind a wave of deaths in the United States, China, Iran and Iraq.

A Facebook user has been riding on reports of recent sightings of the Asian giant hornet in the United States to fan fears of another wave of deaths that would supposedly come on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The post falsely claims that the world’s largest hornet (scientific name: vespa mandarinia), which the U.S. media have dubbed “murder hornet,” has killed people not only in the United States but also in other countries such as Iran and Iraq.

A related post even added locusts to the picture in advancing a “scarier than COVID-19” narrative involving hornets, citing a Reuters report of recent locust attacks across India.

The post that blamed deaths in several countries on the Asian giant hornet reads:

Ito yong uri ng insects na kumikitil ng buhay ngaun sa China, India, Iran, Iraq, Amerika at ibang Country, ayon sa Pinagmulan ng Post na ito. ILIGTAS NG ALLAH ANG PILIPINAS SA GANITONG PROBLEMA. ITONG INSEKTO KAPAG NAKAGAT KA SANDALI LANG PATAY KANA. Pawala na ang Corona Virus ito nanaman ang problema ng iba
(This is the kind of insect that has taken lives in China, India, Iran, Iraq, America and other countries nowadays, according to this post. May Allah save the Philippines from this problem. When you’re bitten by this insect, you die instantly. The coronavirus problem is waning, but here’s another problem).

The post was accompanied by four photos of the Asian giant hornet culled from CBS Philly’s May 4 report titled, “New type of insect has arrived in U.S. with a sting strong enough to kill a human,” and a photo of a victim with holes on his arm said to be the result of being stung by a giant hornet.

Photos of the hornet and its sting victims have been used in in multiple Facebook posts to support a prophesy of an “upcoming world pandemic worse than COVID-19” linked to hornets. The posts quote Jesus Ministries founder Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj as saying:

(A)nother worst than corona virus is going to come – when that comes, it will make corona virus look like tiny child’s play. It will sting a person like a hornet (bug/ bee) … it swells in the skin… that person will feel hot and fire over them and the temperature will rise 100 degress farenheight (sic) above 30 degrees centigrade.. fever will shoot up their bodies… and boils will develop all over their faces and bodies & chest areas…Scientist will be baffled for having not discovered any medicine for this.

Meanwhile, the post on the locusts reads:

Killer Hornet" is real thing.. eto ngaun ang locusts outbreak sa India, iran at china at kahit sa U.S. spotted na daw ang insektong eto.. mas nakakatakot kesa covid19?.. pag nakagat ang tao patay agad (“Killer hornet" is a real thing. These are now the locusts outbreak in India, Iran and China. This insect has even been spotted in the U.S... Scarier than covid19?.. if people get bitten, they will die instantly).

The post ran two set of photos: One consisting of screengrabs from a Reuters’ report on the locust attacks in India and the other from a CNN report on the “murder” or Asian giant hornets.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) in December verified two reports of the Asian giant hornet in Blaine city in the state, said to be the first-ever sighting of the insects in the United States. Canada had also discovered the hornet in two locations in British Columbia in the fall of 2019.

The 2-inch-long hornet has a large orange/yellow head with prominent eyes and black and yellow striped abdomen.

The U.S. media reported sightings in early May, describing the Asian giant hornet as a “murder” hornet because of its more venomous sting.

To date, no deaths resulting from attacks by the Asian giant hornet have been reported in the U.S., contrary to the Facebook post.

While the CBS Philly report cited by the post did say the sting of the Asian giant hornet is “strong enough to kill a human,” it also said the insect rarely goes after humans.

A search of recent news reports also shows no massive deaths in China, India, Iran and Iraq due to the Asian giant hornet.

The Asian giant hornet is native to Japan and is responsible for about 40 deaths there every year, according to a paper from the University of Florida. In China, the hornet last wreaked havoc on Shaanxi province in 2013, leaving 42 dead and 1,675 injured.

The photo showing a man with sting wounds on his arm is said to be that of one of the victims in 2013. Business Insider published several photos of victims on its website that year.

Besides Japan, the Asian giant hornet is established in temperate and tropical East Asia, South Asia, mainland Southeast Asia and parts of the Russian Far East. None of the literature so far points to it being established in the Middle East Western Asia where Iran and Iraq are located.

The WSDA said the Asian giant hornet poses great danger to honeybees, decapitating the latter and destroying a hive in a matter of hours when they enter a "slaughter phase."

It said, however, the hornet is not typically aggressive toward humans and generally does not generally attack people or pets—but can attack when threatened. Mass hornet attacks are also rare, it said.

Chris Looney, a WSDA research entomologist who belongs to the team that identified the hornet in the U.S., said: “Even if this (Asian giant hornet) does become an established species, it’s not likely to emerge as an enormous human health threat.”

The Asian giant hornet is deadlier than other bees and wasps because its stinger is longer and can penetrate a beekeeper’s suit, its venom is more toxic, and it can sting repeatedly.

The WSDA said a sting can damage tissue and cause substantial pain but makes no mention of instantaneous death.

It urged people who are allergic to bee or wasp stings to stay away from the hornet, saying deaths from its stings are usually due to anaphylactic shock and cardiac arrest. Kidney or multiple organ failure is rare, typically after a large number of strings, it said.

Infographic of what to do if student by an Asian giant hornet
Source: Washington State Department of Agriculture

As for locusts, the Food and Agriculture Organization said they pose no harm to humans:

Locusts do not attack people or animals. There is no evidence that suggests that locusts carry diseases that could harm humans.

Reuters said India is battling its worst desert locust outbreak in decades which an Indian official attributed to higher than normal temperatures.

The Facebook post on hornet-related deaths was published May 27 and has been shared more than 2,400 times. Published May 28, the locust post has nearly 500 shares. The prophecy of Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj appears in multiple platforms, including on Facebook, YouTube and websites.

In 2014, Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj claimed that a “flesh-eating skin disease” prophesied by Indian holy man Vincent Selvakumar would originate from Pangasinan. It turned out to be a hoax.


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