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Bacteria deadly to bee population found in Kula hive

The American foulbrood disease was found in a Kula beehive recently. The bacteria, which can remain viable for 50 years, is difficult to kill and resistant to most antibiotics, heat and disinfectants. Symptoms of the bacteria include honeybee cells that are moist, dark in color, and often smell of decaying animals. The dying larva inside the cells shrink and the normal convex capping becomes concave. The pattern on an infected bee brood frame will look spotty because of a mixture of disease and healthy brood cells. • State Department of Agriculture photo

The Maui News – Detection of the destructive and difficult-to-eradicate American foulbrood disease in a Kula beehive recently led the state Department of Agriculture to issue an alert Wednesday.

The foulbrood bacteria wiped out much of Hawaii’s honeybee population in the 1930s and spores of the disease may be live for more than 50 years, the Agriculture Department said.

In addition to the Kula hive, hives on Oahu and Hawaii island also were infected by the foulbrood disease in February and October, respectively, last year, the Agriculture Department said.

The bacteria, found worldwide, kills bee larvae and is highly infectious to bee broods (embryos or eggs). Once a colony is infected it almost always results in the death of the colony, said the Agriculture Department.

The disease is resistant to most antibiotics, heat and disinfectants — treatments normally used to kill bacteria. There is an antibiotic that may be used to help prevent the disease, but most strains have developed a resistance.

The most effective way to control an existing infection is to burn and destroy the hive, the Agriculture Department said.

“Beekeepers around the state should be vigilant in inspecting their hives for signs of this disease,” said John McHugh, administrator of the Plant Industry Division. “Since the spores will always be present, the best strategy for disease control is early detection.”

Symptoms of the bacteria include honeybee cells that are moist, dark in color, and often smell of decaying animals. The dying larva inside the cells shrink and the normal convex capping becomes concave. The pattern on an infected bee brood frame will look spotty because of a mixture of disease and healthy brood cells.

Beekeepers are encouraged to report abandoned hives that may be a reservoir for the disease, which is easily spread by bees moving from hive to hive.

Due to the foulbrood and other bee diseases, it is illegal to import used beekeeping equipment into Hawaii or to transport them interisland without an inspection and permit from the Agriculture Department.

The department’s Apiary Program is distributing a flier with more information on how to detect the disease and appropriate treatments. For more information, beekeepers may contact the Apiary Program in Hilo at (808) 339-1977.