VBA Recording Secretary Fred Putnam wrote the following document that describes how the Vermont Beekeepers Association is addressing American Foulbrood in Vermont.
We want to address concerns about American Foulbrood (AFB) in two ways:
The broader perspective about AFB in Vermont along with what is being done specifically.
Provide information to help you identify AFB in your own colonies.
Part 1 -Perspective and action
The Vermont Beekeepers Association (VBA) Board has been working with the State “bee inspector,” Brooke Decker, and other agency people as she ramps up the State bee inspection program. She is all by herself this summer because of the State COVID-19 hiring freeze but she is still out there doing inspections almost every day. Early last year, we (VBA Board and Advisory Board) developed language for H.205 to get a full-time inspector (called a Pollinator Protection Specialist.) That bill passed and we now have a full-time bee inspector for the first time in about 30 years. The result is that she is now finding more cases of AFB than her part-time predecessors had time to find.
The longer-term perspective on this is that AFB has been here in Vermont since 1928. Chas Mraz (Champlain Valley Apiaries) confirms finding AFB over a long period of time dating back many decades. He also stated that AFB is not like COVID-19; it's not spreading out of control (he says it's not an outbreak.) It has been here at some level for almost 100 years. Prior State bee inspectors have also found cases of AFB in varying numbers up and down each year during the past decade.
What is different now is that because Brooke is full time inspecting, she is able to track down more of the cases that exist. Her assessment of the seeming uptick in cases is this:
Some of the cases have a point source and involve nucs. Brooke is following up on potential spread from point sources.
Some of the cases have no apparent point source
Some of the cases are the result of more beekeepers knowing what to look for and reporting those cases to Brooke.
It is a legal requirement to report cases of AFB and other diseases to Brooke and beekeepers have been doing that this year.
So the current assessment is that we are probably not seeing a surge in cases but are doing a much better job at finding them than we were able to do before.
Time will tell if that is true.
AAFM (Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets) is actively pursuing enforcement action in some situations. We (VBA on behalf of all beekeepers) have strongly insisted that cases of AFB be dealt with quickly (burned) and the State is doing that now. We have built a very good communication link with the folks in AAFM and they are working for us.
What is also different from any time in the past is that Brooke is now reporting these cases in real-time. As soon as she finds them, she lets all of us know at the same time. In the past, we found out about cases of AFB in the Fall or at the VBA Winter meeting in January. Now all of us find out about them immediately and at the same time.
So this is the place where things are about to improve:
We (VBA) have asked Brooke to send alerts to every registered apiary owner within five miles of a known occurrence of AFB. She is trying to do this but it's not an easy task for her right now. It has been a real time challenge to do so but she is working with her State GIS counterparts to use the apiary registration location data that we provide to build a tool that will allow her to do this efficiently send out these alerts so that you and I promptly hear about cases within 5 miles of our own apiaries so we can elevate our own inspections. Brooke is still in a building mode when it comes to creating effective administrative tools to help her do her job. She has an incredible work ethic and really cares about us and our bees. As time goes on and she gets those tools in place, we will all benefit.
We (VBA) are also working on some educational info to help beekeepers recognize AFB in their own apiaries and know what to do.
Brooke also made it very clear that her Agency rules prohibit her from divulging names, addresses, GPS coordinates, or any similar information that would specifically identify an apiary owner where cases have been found our where enforcement action is being taken. We are going to follow up on that situation but for now, that's the way it is.
What’s really important to is to know if there is AFB near any of our apiaries.
As a final piece of perspective, the VBA Board people are a bunch of beekeepers just like you. We are volunteering our time to try to help beekeepers across the State. We recognize that the Association hasn't reached as many folks as would be desirable statewide in the past but are working hard to try to make our educational efforts more widely available to local individuals and clubs and to individual beekeepers. If you haven't participated in the VBA Zoom educational sessions, you should. They have been really informative. Past sessions have been recorded so, as a VBA member, you can view them whenever you wish. The links are on the VBA website.
The VBA Board folks have spent a lot of time in the past couple of years laying some groundwork and building the foundational relationships with the State, UVM Extension, Vermont Bee Lab, and more, in ways that will help all of us in the future.
We all really care about issues that you see and are happy if you communicate with us so we can help with those issues if possible.
Thank you from the VBA Board of Directors
Part 2 - Identifying AFB
The Honeybee Health Coalition has a free guide on dealing with AFB. A portion of that guide is included below with a link to the full document. There are several takeaways:
AFB is a bacterial disease spread by long-lived spores. The vegetative form of the bacterium will die but before it does it produces millions of spores. Each dead larva may contain as many as 100 million spores. This disease only affects the bee larvae but is infectious and deadly to bee brood. Infected larvae darken and die.
Transmission - The spores are fed to young larvae by the nurse bees. The spores then germinate in the gut of the larva and multiply rapidly, causing the larva to die soon after it has been sealed in its cell. By the time of death of the larva, the new spores have formed. When the house bees clean out the cell containing the dead larva, these spores are distributed throughout the hive and more and more larvae become infected. The honey in an infected colony can become contaminated with spores and can be a source of infection for any bee that gains access to it. For example, as a colony becomes weak, it cannot defend itself from attacks by robber bees from strong nearby colonies; these robbers take back the contaminated honey to their own colony, continuing the cycle of infection. The beekeeper also may inadvertently spread the disease by exposing contaminated honey to other bees or by the interchange of infected equipment. Moreover, drifting bees or swarms issuing from an infected colony may spread the disease.
The only effective treatment for AFB is burn and bury. Antibiotics only mask the symptoms temporarily which can result in the disease being spread widely unknowingly. It is strongly recommended to not try to use antibiotics.
The AFB spores can remain viable for 40 to 50 years or more. The spores can be spread in honey from the infected colony, on your hive tools, smoker, clothing, on woodenware, and by the bees themselves. Because they can remain viable for so long, it is wise to:
Never acquire used beekeeping equipment.
Never feed honey that you’ve bought from a store or anywhere else.
Sanitize equipment between visits to different apiaries if you have more than one.
We are required by State Law to report this kind of disease.
Here are some pictures of an actual frame infected with AFB. These pictures are provided by former Bee Inspector, Steve Parise.
The Honey Bee Health Coalition has an excellent document available for download at their site that describes American Foulbrood (AFB) and European Foulbrood (EFB), how to test for AFB/EFB, and what to do if there is a positive diagnosis. It’s important to note that antibiotics do not treat AFB, but only mask the symptoms, and that antibiotics should only be used as a last resort for EFB.