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KCC works to keep bees healthy

March 5, 2017 GMT

PUHI — Dr. Georgeanne Purvinis, head of the Electronics Technology program at the Kauai Community College, said beekeepers need to crack down on hygienic practices to prevent the spread of bee diseases.

“We’ll probably initiate better practices in hygiene,” Purvinis said Friday, in response to an alert issued by the state’s Department of Agriculture advising Hawaii beekeepers about a new case of destructive bee disease. “We might also consider keeping our bees isolated because we don’t have any affected bees.”

The alert was issued Wednesday after beekeeper detected American foulbrood recently in a bee hive in Kula, Maui.

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“This is not something new,” said Dr. Francis Takahashi of the Kauai Community College apiary program. “AFB wiped out a lot of Hawaii’s honeybee population back in the 1930s. The spores of AFB can live up to 80 years.”

The AFB bacterium, which is found worldwide, kills bee larvae and is highly infectious to bee brood that includes embryos or eggs. Once a colony is infected by AFB, it almost always results in the death of the colony, the HDOA said.

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

Symptoms of AFB include honey bee 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.

“When we saw the affected hive on Oahu, there was a hole in the cell,” Takahashi said. “When they poked a stick through, there was just this stringy slime that came out.”

The bacterium that causes the disease is resistant to most antibiotics, heat and disinfectants — treatments normally used to kill bacteria.

The HDOA said there is an antibiotic that may be used to help prevent AFB, but because most strains of the disease have become resistant to treatment, the most effective way to control an existing AFB infection is to burn and destroy the hive.

“There was some mention of AFB during the bee presentations held last week,” Takahashi said. “But the only treatment is to burn the hive. We don’t have any hives that are affected so we’ll initiate better hygienic procedures.”

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.