Significance of American foulbrood to New Zealand

What is American foulbrood disease?

Figure 1: A honey bee pupa with
American foulbrood disease

American foulbrood disease (AFB) (Fig. 1) is a disease of honey bee larvae and pupae. It is the most serious honey bee disease in New Zealand, the control of which is a major cost to beekeepers. In 1996, the combined cost of the disease (including beehive inspection, destruction of diseased beehives and loss of production) was estimated at NZ$2.9 million, or roughly 6% of the annual gross returns of the New Zealand beekeeping industry at the time.

How is it managed?

Unlike most other countries, New Zealand beekeepers do not use antibiotics to control AFB (the use of drugs to control AFB is illegal under New Zealand law). Control is through managing honey bee colonies to reduce the spread of disease and the destruction of colonies that are found to have AFB.

The necessity to prevent the spread of AFB places restrictions on the way beekeepers manage their hives. When control measures fail and disease levels get out of control, AFB can result in the complete destruction of commercial beekeeping businesses.

American foulbrood is the most serious honey bee disease in New Zealand.