Hong Kong (CNN) — At least 19 people have been stung to death by hornets — which may include the world’s largest hornet species Vespa mandarinia — in China’s central Shaanxi province in the last three months, according to the city government of Ankang, the apparent epicenter of a recent spate of fatalities and injuries.
A total of 583 people in the area have been stung by hornets since July 1, say city officials. Seventy victims are still recovering in hospitals.
Chen Changlin was hospitalized after being attacked by hornets, while harvesting rice last week.
“I ran and shouted for help, but the hornets chased me about 200 meters, and stung me for more than 3 minutes,” he recounted to the state-run China Youth Daily.
Chen said hornets had first swarmed a woman and child working nearby, who then ran towards him. Both later died from the hornets’ toxins.
“The more you run, the more they want to chase you,” said another victim, whose kidneys were ravaged by the venom. When he was admitted to the hospital, his urine was the color of soy sauce, according to local reports.
Earlier this month, 30 people — including 23 primary school children aged between six and eight years — were injured in a hornet attack in Guangxi province, south of Shaanxi. Their teacher, Li Zhiqiang, told his students to hide under tables as he tried to drive away the insects before he lost consciousness. The school’s headmaster told local media that most of the injured suffered stings to their heads, necks, hands and feet.
Nearly 60 students and teachers were injured in a separate incident in the province at the start of the month, according to state media.
Experts say a number of reasons may have contributed to the apparent increase in hornet activity, including the region’s recent hot, dry weather, land development and hornet sensitivity to the smell of people.
The Asian killer hornet, which is suspected in these incidents, are formidable, carnivorous killers, according to the non-profit Honeybee Conservancy. The species feed their young with the larvae of other insects and use their talons and mandibles to sever the limbs and heads of their prey. The hornet’s venom sting is a neurotoxin so powerful that it dissolves human tissue, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
This week’s latest incidents spurred the Ankang city government to hold an emergency video call addressing local concerns. Vice Mayor Lu Qi said he would increase investment in regional hornet control. Mayor Xu Qifang added the city would establish a 24-hour emergency hornet response team.
Journalist Ramy Inocencio wrote in Hong Kong and Ke Feng contributed to this article from Beijing.