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European Foul Brood (EFB)

A Serious Disease Of Honey Bees

Foul Brood is a term used to describe two diseases of honey bee larvae, American foul brood (AFB), and European foul brood (EFB). This page deals with EFB, which is uncommon in the UK, but because many beekeepers won't ever see it in a colony that is the danger - they don't think their bees will get it.

When I started beekeeping in West Sussex in the early 1960s there was virtually no EFB, it was all AFB, now it's the other way round. I have no idea why, and neither have the Bee Inspectors.

EFB seems to be much more persistant than AFB and once it gets a hold in an area it is difficult to eradicate. Fairly close to me in West Sussex there is a "hotspot" that has been there for 20 - 25 years.

European foul brood is caused by a bacterium called Melissococcus plutonius. Infected food is fed to larvae which multiply in the mid - gut and competes with the larvae for its food. Starvation is the result and is why EFB shows in the unsealed stage, although it can also show after the cell is sealed.

It is becoming clear there is a lot to learn about EFB as it is not fully understood. It appears many colonies have a low level of EFB but do not show signs of infection. Something triggers it off and amongst the possibilities are stress and malnutrition.

Prosperous colonies are likely to be at greater risk than those that are short of food. If the larvae is poorly fed it dies early and is contained in a sac that bees can remove from the cell without spreading the infection. If the larvae are well fed it survives to emerge as a healthy bee, but is still infected as it pupates and voids it's gut contents into the cell, which is cleaned by a house bee, that spreads the infection.

There are a number of possible treatments for EFB including destruction. Advice on these will be given by the Bee Inspector.

In my opinion the best source of information is supplied by the National Bee Unit. This will be as good and up-to-date as possible. Please consult it and the "Foul Brood" page that can be accessed by the button on the top left

This page has been compiled using information from the NBU website.

Roger Patterson.