Jan. 12, 2023

Dealing With American Foulbrood (108)

Dealing With American Foulbrood (108)

American Foulbrood is in the news lately… and for a good, positive reason. But what does it mean if you determine or a state apiarist determines you have a case or two or more of AFB in your bee yard? A vaccine is not a cure. It is a means for...

American Foulbrood is in the news lately… and for a good, positive reason. But what does it mean if you determine or a state apiarist determines you have a case or two or more of AFB in your bee yard? A vaccine is not a cure. It is a means for prevention.

In today’s episode, Jim invites Beekeeping Today Podcast’s Jeff Ott on to talk about American Foulbood, the stigma attached to AFB and the go-to recommendation of burning all contaminated equipment, bees and wax is not one you want associated with your operation.

Not withstanding the recent news, AFB has dropped from the attention of today’s beekeepers - replaced by the devastation and losses caused by Varroa. But before varroa, there was American Foulbrood. It is likely many new beekeepers today have never seen AFB and would not recognize it, attributing a colony’s demise to Varroa. To complicate and obscure things even greater, a colony today with AFB will inevitably have Varroa. 

Ignoring American Foulbrood is mistake that has deadly consequences. This is one disease you need to continually monitor for, especially in your weak and dead colonies.

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 108 – Dealing With American Foulbrood


Jim Tew: Beekeepers, it's a gloomy, coolish midwinter day, overcast, rainy, what a great day to talk about a gloomy, overcast topic. That would be our emotional responses that we feel when we realize that some of our bee hives have American foulbrood. Jeff Ott is visiting with us today. Hi, Jeff.

Jeff Ott: Hi, Jim, thanks a lot for inviting me along to talk about this happy topic.

Jim: I'm glad to have you here. Jeff, from the podcast Beekeeping Today and is a frequent visitor here with us. I appreciate you stopping by to talk about this. The thing I wanted to go into Jeff is not so much punctured cappings and oily cappings and stringy smears. What I wanted to talk about was more of what you feel as a beekeeper. I've never heard that discussed, but I see it and have seen it many times. Can we talk about that for a bit? Yes, let's talk about that. If you have American foulbrood do you tell your friends? That's a good question. Let's go with that. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today podcast.

Jim: We're coming to you from Honeybee Obscura, the weekly podcast where we talk about all things beekeeping, and today is a cheerful bright subject of why did you cry when you found out your beehives have American foulbrood.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum, and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a longtimer or are just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Jim: I haven't had to deal with foulbrood issues in quite a while. I would knock on wood, I would knock on anything but if I keep keeping bees long enough, I'll probably see it again. How often do you see it, Jeff, what has been your latest episode?

Jeff: I have been fortunate in that I have not seen it since the late '90s, early 2000, I'd say 2000.

Jim: Well, what I'm talking about, what I want to get to, what I'm struggling with is that you really can't make a slide deck, it's hard to make a video, you have to be there, Jeff. You have to be the beekeeper in the yard. You're just looking at a frame and it's capped brood and there's a suddenly an odd tear and a capping. Then as you say, "Well, that looks like that picture I've seen of American foulbrood," and then you keep punching oh, there's another one.

There's this thing you get in the bottom of your stomach, this anxiety. Is this it or is this the results of varroa mite predation, I don't know. Let me stick a stick in that. You put a stick on it and then all the pictures strings out, three, four, seven-inch ideally as long as an inch it just strings out. I love the word mucilaginously [laughs] to keep from using the other word.

Jeff: Is that a real word?

Jim: Yes, I've made it up probably I think it is. Then you thought of this, that you strung out three-eighths of an inch? Is that enough? Then you say, "There's this anxiety that begins to develop." Do you know the feeling I'm talking about or am I alone here?

Jeff: No, no, I'm very well aware of it. Then you start looking at the rest of the colony and you start thinking, 'Well, all those things that I was thinking about was just normal ebb and flow in the colony maybe this is a sign of a weakening colony that's fighting this disease."

Jim: You try to think of anything else that it could be. Is this a pesticide? You struggle because you really don't want it to be anything bad.

Jeff: No.

Jim: You certainly don't want it to be American foulbrood.

Jeff: You start sniffing, you start saying, "Do I smell anything, do I smell anything weird?"

Jim: Do I smell anything? Is there anything I'm missing here? Then this is the second stage in many cases, Jeff, you dial up a friend. I'm going to tell you listeners at this point, it needs to be a good friend because if this thing develops, then you've got a party to your crime here. You call up a friend and maybe he or she comes over and they have a look. You decide, "Yes, this is American foulbrood." What you see then this is where the plot begins to thicken because you're at a monthly meeting then and your friend suddenly says, 'Well, I just got American foulbrood, but we're dealing with it." He's going to sort his colonies out and put some antibiotic on it. Well then, can you help me, Jeff? The angst begins to grow within the crowd.

Jeff: I'm trying to figure out why you chose me as being the one with American foulbrood. [laughs]

Jim: Because I didn't want to use my name just in case some listeners thought that somehow this was a recantation of a real story. No, we're making this up. These are all my thoughts today on this segment, all my feelings are real world where I have watched beekeepers go through this agony of different stages, "Well, he's just three miles from me."

Jeff: Right.

Jim: "Is that flight distance from his yard to mine?"

Jeff: We're trying to make light of this difficult subject but even the thought of bringing this up in a public meeting, such as a monthly beekeeper meeting is a weighty subject. Do you tell the club that you're presently dealing with American foulbrood? Everyone listening to the podcast is saying, "Well, sure you do, dummy," but there's going to be somebody sitting out there saying, "No, I'm not going to tell them that my hives have American foulbrood because I don't want that stigma tied to my bee yard or to me as a beekeeper," because American foulbrood is seen as well, you're sloppy beekeeper then.

Jim: That is a perfect word, a stigma because what I've seen happen what I think happens in nearly every case is that beekeepers have a long memory so you may burn up everything you own. You may basically nearly put yourself out of business but then when another beekeeper in that same group comes down with American foulbrood two years later, your episode, your experience will come back to mind and you will suddenly be back on the front burner even though you may not be even in beekeeping anymore. "I wonder if his equipment is sitting around down there somewhere. He was the last guy I heard of who had this thing.

There's a stigma that's really hard to shake. When you said that you tell people at the meeting, "Well, I don't know why I would tell anybody." At the same time, I don't know why I would keep it a secret. It's my business if I had European foulbrood, if I had small hive beetles, same thing if I'm not treating for varroa I'm contaminating the neighborhood, too but American foulbrood has a hard stigma because of the perseverance of it.

Jeff: Right now, today's beekeepers are all concerned overwhelmingly with varroa and all the varroa-associated disease. That's the bugaboo of the beekeeping world right now. Before varroa, the big monster in the closet was American foulbrood. I think that's why that stigma persists today because it can ravage a bee yard.

Jim: Yes.

Jeff: That was what was killing bee yards in many cases in a bad way before the varroa came around. The reason I think it was seen poorly was you ended up having to kill the colony is the final treatment. That was the recommended surefire way of mostly getting rid of American foulbrood because you never really know.

Jim: You never really know.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: You keep making all the good points. You never really know, do you, Jeff?

Jeff: No.

Jim: Let's just say I had the bad luck of having American foulbrood in 2 of my 10 colonies, I destroyed both those colonies and now it's over.

Jeff: Is it?

Jim: You can breathe a sigh of relief, and then two years later, there's another one. You think, "Well, did that come from the one two years ago or are my bees finding something out in the wild?" Then you want to say, "Well, that's probably a wild nest somewhere." I don't know if it is or not. Well it's most frequent to tear that down. You never really know where it's coming from. I think that what I feel after all these decades is that you just always watch for it. When it turns up, and it's rare, but when it turns up, you recognize it and you deal with it forcefully and then you just move on.

Jeff: Right.

Jim: Then if it comes up a year later, I don't know where it came from. I don't know where my last respiratory infection came from. I'll get another one, is it related to the last one? Probably not, maybe so, I don't know. I don't care. I just want to find the routine stuff to treat the respiratory infection that I have.

Jeff: I think you're right. You're absolutely right. We're coming at it from a bunch of different directions, but I think when we look at American foulbrood I think the common knowledge is it's in the environment, that it's an opportunistic bacterium that it rarely takes out a very healthy, strong colony. It's probably in our colonies right now, but our bees are dealing with it. Would you agree?

Jim: Yes, I do agree.

Jeff: It takes an opportunity for it to get a foothold and grow inside a colony to get to the point that it becomes the foulbrood disease that we're aware of that takes out a colony.

Jim: What's so dreaded about this whole thing is that it's a spore-forming bacterium, and those spores are remarkably resilient. As bad as varroa is, at least you can reuse the equipment, you reuse the comb and life goes on. With American foulbrood, you better be able to recognize that because if you're making splits or if you're selling equipment, used equipment, then you're spreading that all over. It's a persistent thing. Another point I wanted to get to. I have had people become belligerent at open forums that they did not want. I'll say Jim Tew this time since I said Jeff Ott last time.

Jeff: [laughs]

Jim: They did not want Jim Tew coming in my yard with his car because he has American foulbrood, and I don't know if he has spores on his feet and on his car tires. I promise I had a beekeeper fire off that one day to another beekeeper. It was actually the inspector, that this guy was scattering foulbrood all across the country because he was driving the same car to all these locations and walking in the yard.

That's not the way it works, Jeff. It's a very fastidious well-adapted bacterium. It only takes its small part, but it takes that part vigorously. When when we put these colonies side by side, or the bee yard, drifting bees, robbing bees, it can explode much more than it would in the wild. Jeff, let's take a break and hear from our sponsor who has bee supplies and disease control materials available.


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Jim: We've rambled around, Jeff, on some of the feelings, the anxiety. The main thing is the uncertainty. We don't know where it came from and many new beekeepers have never seen it before. They're always anxious that they're working all around it and don't recognize it. I hate to say it, but that is a possibility. All the beekeeper can do, the new beekeeper especially, is look at the pictures, listen to what others have said, be aware that even though varroa and the common day issues of our big concerns, what we have to worry with too are these rarely occurring diseases like American foulbrood because of that persistence.

You don't study at night and day, you don't sit up to the wee hours of the morning, you don't watch every video available. All you can do is just watch the broad overview pictures and be looking for those in your bees. You've already said there may be a mild case there that you never see. It may have been there for six months before it really expressed itself, and so you're trying to figure out where it came from just a few days ago.

Well, actually your bees acquired it a half a year ago. Everything about this is uncertain, unclear, and unsatisfactory. It's the things that beekeepers have to go to. Well, the thing that is always direct humor, can't guess, can it be light humor, I guess, is that we always see diseased equipment as being old, scruffy, worn out, neglected, abandoned. I got to tell you, listeners, sometimes American foulbrood occurs in pristine, very new high-end equipment, and the recommendation is still what Joe?

Joe: Burn it.

Jim: Burn it. It is really brutal.

Jeff: What's your feeling about scorching it? There is a school of thought that if you could just take a blow torch and scorch the inside, you're good to go.

Jim: Well, we have scorched. I have scorched. I've seen scorching done. I've done scorching. It's an art form. Do we want to go into that or we want to say that you've scorched out the inside? I didn't use a blow torch. I've never done that. We used a few ounces of diesel on a stock of equipment, and you get this chimney thing going. It roars like a freight train.

Then just as it's really about to set fire to that stack of equipment, you drop a lid on top and snuff it out. Then what's left is the inside of your beehives have been charred about a 30-seconds of an inch deep. That is clean equipment, Joe. There is no American foulbrood there, but that equipment is also marked for the rest of its existence. When you're standing at an auction and you're trying to decide how much of these gold beekeepers' equipments you want to buy, and you see that half of it's been charred out, you're probably going to be skittish at that moment on.

Jeff: You're describing of stacking up the bee equipment and making a chimney of the boxes and couple little bit of diesel fuel and everything. I just had this vision of [laughs] a disaster waiting to happen. I'm glad you did not do that.

Jim: That was a recommended procedure now. I was taught that by a state apiarist here in Ohio years ago. There was no nonsense. You're not going to fiddle around with the little propane torch. No. We're going to clean this equipment up. That was one thing that remains, is the equipment is, if you do decide to reuse it. Now I think honestly that most of the time you would just go ahead and burn it.

Jeff: Today, if I had American foulbrood just like I did back in 2000, we'll just say, I would just burn the equipment.

Jim: Hey, you set me up now. I didn't mean to go into this, but let's do it. We got a few minutes left. Just burn the equipment. Just burn the equipment. We both agree with that, right? [crosstalk] Now, I've got you set up, Jeff.

Jeff: And bury it. What?

Jim: We've got you set up.

Jeff: [chuckles] Oh no.

Jim: What if the equipment is plastic? Are you going to still burn it? That's an environmental concern at that point when you start torching plastic equipment.

Jeff: The boxes are plastic?

Jim: And the frames.

Jeff: Oh my gosh.

Jim: There's plastic foundation inserts. Are you still going to smoke the sky, burning plastic?

Jeff: No. No, no, no. No. Obviously not. I was thinking old school wooden ware.

Jim: I was thinking old school wooden ware, but I had this happen. We were doing a burn and we tossed in equipment and I noticed some of those plastic inserts going, and I began to think, "Well, this is not a good thing we're doing." We shut down for a while and did some background work on that. That kind of equipment should go in a double bag sack to an approved landfill where it will be buried. That has to go to a landfill.

Jeff: Depending on the number of frames, I'd probably pop the inserts and burn the frames, and double bag the inserts. It's a nasty job and no matter how you have to do it, and if it's plastic, I think the job is even harder.

Jim: It's not just American foulbrood, cleaning up a winter kill. Cleaning up after bees that had dysentery. There are just no way to get around it, Jeff. There are some jobs in beekeeping that just are not the desirable coveted assignments that beekeepers want.

Jeff: Let's not make this darker. [laughs]

Jim: This is one of them. This is just one of the jobs you've just got to get through to get this under control.

Jeff: Well, and as we started, this is the one that has the negative stigma, if that's the word for the show associated with it. Nosema, even European foulbrood, none of them have the stigma with it that American foulbrood does. I think that's a historical weight that's been placed upon it.

Let me tell you why. To end this show on a positive note, I think we need to recognize the fact that today's beekeepers have an awareness about disease control and viruses from the COVID-19 experience over the last several years. There's more of an awareness and acceptance and understanding of how diseases spread among the population. I'm hopeful that some beekeepers can use that translation from COVID to American foulbrood and their ability to talk about it and understand how it's possible to spread. Just a little plug from the Beekeeping Today podcast, we recently talked with Dr. Keith Delaplane out of the University of Georgia, and his lab is working with a local company on developing a vaccine for American foulbrood and that is nearly, he was saying he thought it might be released in 2023, this year.

I think there are some great things on the horizon for American foulbrood, but still, even vaccine or no vaccine, you still have to deal with the equipment and you still have to deal with proper management to avoid getting American foulbrood.

Jim: Jeff, along that line, honeybee Health Coalition has really good information on where we are now with American foulbrood, recognizing it, understanding it, doing something with it. All the things we didn't discuss here today are covered correctly in those publications. They're readily available.

Jeff: My go-to sources first on anything would be the Honeybee Health Coalition and BIP, Bee Informed Partnership would be my two first stops in researching what to do next if I find any disease or pest or questions about the health of my colonies.

Jim: There's no way to put a bright spin on this. It's the responsibility we take on for being the animal husbands of our colonies, of overseeing these, there's just no way to put a happy spin on this. When it goes wrong you fix it and you bring it back to us right. There's things go wrong.

Jeff: They do. That's part of like you said, the responsibility we accept when we become beekeepers.

Jim: We can keep beating this horse, it's just not going to go anywhere. It's not going to be any happier. Let's just stop because I suspect most of the listeners stopped about 20 minutes ago. This is a dead subject, seems like.

Jeff: Let's wrap, let's put a bow on this. If you think you have American foulbrood, you have resources available, the Honeybee Health Coalition, Project Apis m., you have Bee Informed Partnership. You have local veterinarians who are available who can diagnose American foulbrood and can treat that they have the ability to provide medication Terramycin essentially for American foulbrood.

But get someone's help if you suspect you have American foulbrood because it is a nasty disease and you don't want it to spread and ultimately be prepared that you might have to lose the entire colony.

Jim: That's a proper boom. I can't add anything to that. Hey, thanks for slogging through this. Jim will be back. He'll appreciate your taking up the mantle for this particular difficult subject, but I'm glad it's done.

Jeff: Well, next time hopefully we can talk about unicorns and rainbows.

Jim: They're always in the bee yard but just not always readily visible.

Jeff: That's right.

Jim: Bye, Jeff.

Jeff: We'll see you.

[00:23:24] [END OF AUDIO]