American Foulbrood can be one of the most devastating diagnoses for a beekeeper. It is a highly infectious bacteria of the honeybee and can not only cause a high number of bee deaths and colony collapse, but because of the nature of the disease, beekeepers can find themselves having to destroy via incineration, all of their beekeeping equipment.
“The disease is not able to be cured, meaning that destruction of infected colonies and hives or irradiation of infected material is the only way to manage AFB.”
Our hives have not been affected by American Foulbrood, thank goodness! But in doing research for this post, I read some of the devastating stories of beekeepers having to destroy thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment to eradicate this disease from their bee yard.
Not to mention the stress of having to have your hive inspected by the state, which can be a lengthy and stressful process.
In the 8 years I’ve kept bees, I don’t hear a lot about American Foulbrood. But I think it’s important, especially to new beekeepers, to understand the risks, the investment and the things to be cautious of.
Like the sharing of equipment, tracking bee diseases in your area and budgeting your beekeeping hobby.
I think it’s important to have a budget when you begin beekeeping so that you know the financial risks, not only for American Foulbrood, but for other beekeeping catastrophes.
What is it?
“American foulbrood (AFB) is a fatal bacterial disease of honey bee brood caused by the spore forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae.”
The bacteria infect bees at the pupa stage killing the new generation of bees. Eventually the hive cannot replenish its members and the colony dies.
How is it spread?
AFB is not airborne, it must be carried into the hive via other bees or on equipment that has come in contact with an AFB positive hive.
“Bacterial spores can easily be spread between hives and apiaries through beekeeping practices such as through the exchange of equipment and movement of infected combs. Adult bees are not affected by AFB but can spread spores within and between infected and clean hives through robbing and drifting.”
It can also be spread through swarming colonies, though this is rare.
“The spores of AFB are capable of surviving for more than 50 years and are resistant to extreme temperatures meaning freezing or heating infected material will not disinfect material. Infected material (hive components, tools etc) need to be burnt or irradiated to ensure AFB spores are killed.”
How it works its way through a hive?
The bacteria is introduced from an outside source. See above. Nurse bees who clean cells pick up the bacteria and infect the young while feeding. When the infected young die, the bees who clean the cells then come in contact with the bacteria and spread it even further. Nectar stored in infected cells becomes contaminated and eventually the entire honey store is fouled.
In some states, beekeepers must register their hives. One of the reasons for this is to help with the management of American Foulbrood. If there is an outbreak in your area you will be notified by the state to look for symptoms. You may also be required to have a state inspector come out and make sure the disease isn’t spreading to near-by hives.
Contrary to the name, American Foulbrood is present throughout the world. Even if your state does not require hive registration any American Foulbrood infections should be reported to your local Department of Agriculture.
Check with your local beekeeping organization or your local county extension for more information on the distribution of American Foulbrood in your area/state. Even if there isn’t a government registration, many have voluntary reports, records and occurancess of the disease.
In my next few posts I will cover:
How to diagnose a hive/symptoms
What to do if you have a hive with Foulbrood
And how to keep future hives Foulbrood free
For more information visit BeeAware.org