Firefighters in China have begun a mass cull of killer hornet nests after the deadly insects claimed the lives of at least 42 people in a wave of attacks.
Wearing protective suits to escape the 6mm stings, firefighters have been spraying them with chemicals and setting nests ablaze.
Hospitals in the city of Ankang have been forced to set up specialist units to cope with the influx of people suffering from multiple stings.
Victims have revealed puncture wounds measuring several milimetres apart after being attacked.
A mother and son were among those to die at the hands of one swarm, and hundreds more villagers have been treated in hospitals in rural areas for injuries.
Most of the victims have come under attack while working outdoors in rice fields, but a 68-year-old was killed after wind blew a hornets nest over, prompting a furious attack.
Chinese authorities said today the death toll has reached 42 and that at least 1,600 have been treated for injuries.
More than 230 people have been stung in the city of Ankang alone, which is the hardest hit with 19 of the total deaths in the past three months.
The number of dead is expected to rise as scores more people are lying critically ill in hospital.
The spate of attacks has prompted the city’s hospital to set up a panel specialising in the treatment of hornet stings.
People in the cities of Hanzhong and Shangluo have also been killed and injured.
Ankang’s fire department has removed over 300 hornet nests from crowded residential areas since July in an attempt to address the problem.
Experts believe the culprits to be the Asian giant hornet, which grows up to 5cm long with a 6mm sting.
The giant hornets’ highly toxic stings can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure.
The attacks are an annual problem but have worsened this year, possibly due to warmer weather boosting breeding.
Between 2002 and 2005 there were 36 deaths and 715 people injured, according to Ankang police.
Earlier this month, it was revealed a deadly breed of hornet was threatening Britain’s bees.
Click here to see pictures of the world’s deadliest insects – and the pain ratings of their stings.
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