What to do if you detect or suspect American Foulbrood
American Foulbrood (AFB) is an infectious notifiable disease of honey bee larvae and pupae. Infected bee colonies become weak and die. There is no treatment for AFB infected hives. The use of antibiotics including Oxytetracycline hydrochloride ('OTC') for AFB is illegal in Victoria and is not an effective treatment. Early detection is important to reduce the risk of spread.
Please refer to Agriculture Victoria's website and Plant Health Australia's 'Beeaware' website for AFB signs and symptoms and disease information.
If you have, or suspect, AFB in your hive, you should contact an apiary officer (contact details are provided on the next page) to discuss next steps, which may include the following actions.
Confirmation of disease
Regular brood inspection should occur to detect signs and symptoms of pests and disease. Some symptoms of AFB include: irregular brood pattern, sunken caps of the cells and some caps may be perforated. Infected larvae change colour from a normal white to a light brown or coffee brown. The moist, brown, decaying remains of an infected AFB larvae may be 'roped' out of the cell with a matchstick to 30mm or so. This 'matchstick test' is an effective method of diagnosing AFB alongside honey tests and laboratory sampling. Be conscious not to leave your infected AFB matchstick accessible to other bees (Practical suggestion: leave it inside the AFB suspect / infected colony).
Honey testing and larval smears
Beekeepers can have honey tested to detect AFB spores by Gribbles Laboratory.
Honey culture tests (HCTs) are an effective tool that can detect early infections of AFB. Beekeepers are required to pay for their HCT.
Larval smears of suspect AFB cells can also be submitted to Gribbles Laboratory.
This is done by removing a single diseased or suspect honey bee larva (or remains) from its cell using a clean matchstick and smearing it on a labelled glass slide.
American Foulbrood is a notifiable disease under the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994.
If you have or suspect AFB in your hive(s) you must notify Agriculture Victoria apiary officers.
Contact details for apiary officers are provided at the end of this page.
Beekeepers may be eligible to receive compensation if their bees/hives are destroyed or sterilised due to AFB. Beekeepers must be registered and notify an apiary officer before the hives are destroyed or sterilised to be eligible.
Destruction of AFB diseased hives
Please discuss this process with an Agriculture Victoria apiary officer prior to destruction.
Infected hives are destroyed by closing the hive entrance when the bees have stopped flying. Hives can then be destroyed using unleaded petrol at a rate of 125-250 millilitres per hive to kill the colony of bees prior to burning the hive. This can be done under an Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) permit 'Permit to allow minor use of an agvet chemical product for the control of abandoned or diseased European honeybee hives' (Permit Number PER12843).
A pit should also be dug to accommodate all items and deep enough to retain melted wax and honey. All diseased combs and hive components including bottom boards, lids and queen excluders not suitable for irradiation should be destroyed by burning.
Care should be taken not to spill honey and risk AFB exposure to robber bees.
Disinfection of AFB hives and components – Gamma-irradiation
Gamma-irradiation is a safe and effective way of sterilising AFB infected hive components. Steritech Pty Ltd in Dandenong operates the only gamma-irradiation plant in Victoria. The company should be contacted regarding details of price, protocols for presenting hives and for bookings.
Beekeepers should carefully consider the economic benefits of having materials irradiated (include cost of travel and preparation of hive) in comparison to destruction of the entire hive.
Extracting honey from AFB infected hives
There is a major risk of spreading AFB if honey is extracted from infected hives.
If you wish to extract AFB infected honey, please discuss this with an apiary officer.
After the initial clean up, all remaining hives should be inspected regularly (every four weeks, weather dependent) to detect any new AFB infection. Honey samples should also be sent to 'Gribbles' laboratory for testing. Barrier management is also an effective way to reduce the risk and spread of AFB and should be implemented.