American Foulbrood

American foulbrood (AFB) is a bacterial disease infecting brood of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). The disease is present in almost all countries where honey bees are found.

This serious brood disease is caused by a bacterium that produces very resistant, long-lived spores. A colony with AFB will usually be killed by the disease. However, this may take many months and in the meantime the bees, stores and hive parts can infect other colonies. Before a colony dies, it can have an infection of AFB that either cannot be seen or is easily missed, and the infection can be spread by interchanging equipment or bees.

Other colonies can also contract the disease by robbing. Beekeepers must be knowledgeable about the disease and constantly inspect for it.

American foulbrood was first recorded in New Zealand in 1877, 38 years after honey bees were introduced.
Within 10 years, the disease had spread to all parts of New Zealand and was being blamed for a 70% reduction in the nation's honey production.

New Zealand was the first county in the world to implement a nationwide programme for the control of AFB. The goal of the New Zealand AFB programme is to eliminate AFB from New Zealand.
For more information check out the American Foulbrood Management Agency website.

There is no legal or effective treatment for American Foulbrood Disease in New Zealand. Destruction is the only option as the disease is extremely infectious and the spores are very hard to kill.

Inspecting for AFB

All hives must be inspected annually by an Approved Beekeeper for the presence of AFB .

To become approved a beekeeper must pass a competency test in American foulbrood recognition and control and have a Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA) approved by AsureQuality Limited.

If a beekeeper is not Approved then he or she must engage the services of an Approved Beekeeper to inspect their hives and report on the inspection. More information about DECA's

New Zealand Law requires that colonies and hives with confirmed cases of AFB must be burnt,
unless the individual beekeeper is specifically allowed other actions under a Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA).

Symptoms

Full list of symptoms on the AFB website - afb.org.nz/symptoms-of-afb

If you suspect you may have AFB please contact the National Pest Management Strategy or an AsureQuality Apiculture officer immediately.

Do's and Dont's of AFB Control

Do's

  • Inspect your hives for AFB at least twice a year.
  • Inspect hives before removing bees, honey or equipment.
  • Inspect all brood frames.
  • Shake bees off the frames before inspecting them.
  • Train yourself and your staff in techniques to recognise and eliminate AFB.
  • Report AFB to the Management Agency within 7 days.
  • Burn infected colonies.
  • Feed pollen substitutes rather than pollen.
  • Feed sugar syrup rather than frames of honey.
  • Use hive and apiary quarantines.
  • Only use approved sterilisation methods.
  • Use a thermometer and timer when wax dipping (10 minutes at 160° Celcius).
  • Treat hives to clear up parasitic mite syndrome (PMS) before checking for AFB.
  • Become an approved beekeeper.
  • Get suspect AFB samples tested.

Don't's

  • Don't feed drugs to control AFB.
  • Don't scorch boxes to sterilize them.
  • Don't try to control AFB by removing diseased frames.
  • Don't extract honey from infected colonies.
  • Don't feed bee-collected pollen to colonies.
  • Don't feed extracted honey to bees.
  • Don't let hives get robbed out.
  • Don't shook swarm.
  • Don't let stock knock over beehives.
  • Don't use steam chests to sterilise infected equipment.
  • Don't distribute the equipment from dead hives between other hives.
  • Don't allow colonies to die of varroa or any other cause.

AFB Apps

Available free and designed as a field diagnostic tool to aid beekeepers in identifying and reporting AFB outbreaks.

The AFB App - instructional video

AFB Elimination Videos

Full You Tube Play list from Plant & Food

  1. Introduction to the AFB Elimination video series
  2. History of AFB in New Zealand
  3. Goal of programme
  4. Legal requirements regarding AFB
  5. How to use the ApiWeb website
  6. How AFB can spread
  7. Inspecting a hive for AFB
  8. How to recognise AFB
  9. Collecting cell and bee samples
  10. Sterilising equipment
  11. How to burn a hive
  12. Lab testing for AFB
  13. Summary of the AFB Elimination video series