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.
If you have, or suspect, AFB in your hive, you should contact an apiary officer (contact details are provided at the bottom of the 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
- 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 larva 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. It may be better to simply leave it inside the AFB suspect/infected colony.
Honey testing and larval smears
Beekeepers can have honey tested to detect AFB spores by Gribbles Veterinary Pathology.
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.
Please visit Gribbles Veterinary Pathology or phone (03) 9538 6740 or 1300 307 190 for HCT and larval smear test information sample kits and current prices for testing.
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 an Agriculture Victoria apiary officer wiithout delay.
Beekeepers may be eligible to receive compensation if their bees or hives are destroyed or sterilised due to AFB.
To be eligible for compensation beekeepers MUST:
- be registered as a beekeeper under the LDCA
- notify an apiary officer without delay of the confirmation or suspicion of AFB in their hives
- be issued with a destruction order or disinfection notice from an apiary officer before then destroying or sterilising (disinfecting) bees or hive materials in accordance with the order or notice OR have bees destroyed by an apiary officer due to the presence of AFB
- apply for compensation using the prescribed form within 30 days of the destruction or disinfection.
Note that if a beekeeper undertakes destruction or disinfestation of bees or hive materials prior to notifying an apiary officer or receiving a destruction order or disinfestation notice, they will not be eligible for compensation.
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 to kill the colony of bees prior to burning, burying or irradiating the hive.
All diseased combs and hive components including bottom boards, lids and queen excluders not suitable for irradiation should be destroyed by burning or deep burial at an approved site.
Care should be taken not to spill honey and risk AFB exposure to robber bees.
Sterilisation (disinfection) of AFB hive materials by gamma-irradiation
Gamma-irradiation is a safe and effective way of sterilising (disinfecting) AFB infected hive components. Steritech Pty Ltd operates gamma-irradiation plants in Victoria and Queensland. 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 (including the cost of travel and preparation of hive materials) in comparison to the destruction of the entire hive.
Steritech Pty Ltd — Victoria
160 South Gippsland Highway
Dandenong Victoria 3175
Phone: (03) 8726 5566
Steritech Pty Ltd — Queensland
180–186 Potassium Street
Naranggba QLD 4504
Phone: (07) 3385 8400
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' Veterinary Pathology for testing. Barrier management is also an effective way to reduce the risk and spread of AFB and should be implemented.
More information can be found on Plant Health Australia Beeaware website.