Two die after consuming poisonous honey

Marimanti Sub-County Hospital

Marimanti hospital in Tharaka Nithi County where the victims received treatment.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

At least nine people have died after reportedly consuming poisonous honey in Tharaka Nithi County in the last one year, raising questions about the safety of the delicious bee product.

All the deaths were reported among the Tharaka, who practise traditional bee farming mainly to produce honey for domestic consumption or to prepare a traditional brew known as uki.

Last Saturday, two people in Kiaruni village in Tharaka South sub-county died and eight others were treated at Marimanti Sub-County Hospital after reportedly consuming wild honey.

A 34-year-old man succumbed while receiving treatment, while a woman died at home, said Tharaka South Police Commander Margaret Magiri.

The woman, an adherent of the Kabonokia religious sect, had refused to seek medical treatment, citing her faith, which urges prayers, not treatment.

“The woman died at home because according to her Kabonokia religious sect beliefs, they are not allowed to seek medical treatment,” Ms Magiri said.

Five patients were discharged on Monday and the remaining three were out of danger, said Mr Stephen Kamanja, the Marimanti hospital nursing services manager.

“We have lost one of the nine patients, discharged five after they improved and the rest, including a two and half-year-old child, are responding very well too,” Mr Kamanja said.

He said that they were working to establish the kind of poison that was in the honey, known as nchuura in the Kitharaka dialect.

Nchuura is not made by common bees but by a species of smaller ones known locally as tuchuura, which do not sting.

Locals believe that nchuura is medicinal. It is highly sought after and is eaten raw.

In July last year, three people in Muguruka village, Tharaka South, died and four others were treated at Marimanti hospital after they reportedly consumed a brew made from honey.

This came a day after a seven-year-old boy in Gichiini village in Tharaka North died and four others were successfully treated at a hospital in Mukothima after eating raw honey.

In June last year, two family members in Riamikui village in Tharaka North died and another was successfully treated at Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital after reportedly consuming poisonous honey.

In all these cases, victims complained of stomach pains, diarrhoea, nausea and body weakness. They were treated for unspecified food poisoning.

Livestock and Fisheries Chief Officer Dr Mbae Nkoroi, an animal scientist, said the honey might have been deliberately adulterated.

He said researchers have found that bees can detect toxic plants and avoid them when looking for materials to make honey.

He said the claimed poisonous honey should be taken to a government laboratory for analysis to establish its contents.

“Bees rarely use poisonous materials to make honey, because they are able to detect toxic plants,” Dr Nkoroi said.

But he said the environment had been seriously contaminated with chemicals, including herbicides and pesticides, which also threaten the bees and their activities.

Sometimes bees collect raw honey-making materials from poisonous flowers, claimed traditional beekeeper Muthengi Kamwara, 80.

In such cases, he said, keen honey harvesters will also notice dead bees in the beehive.

Though toxic plants are few and rarely flower, he said, bee farmers who identify them should uproot them whenever they are found near their beehives.