Bee Pathology

Honey bees, as every animal species, have a variety of different diseases. For a long time, honey bee health was almost trouble-free. However, in the past decades, new challenges emerged and health management became an issue. Bee pests and parasites spread all over the world causing serious damage to honey bee colonies.

What are the major honey bee parasites and diseases?

The parasitic mite Varroa destructor was the first in this series of new threats for the beekeeping industry. Until the middle of the past century, this honey bee parasite lived only in colonies of the Asian bee Apis cerana. On this original host, it didn’t cause major damage. Worldwide transports of European honey bees enabled the host shift to this species. As a result, Varroa mites became a major threat for the beekeeping industry worldwide. Without treatment, colonies of the European honey bees, Apis mellifera, don’t survive for longer than a few years. Varroa mites can also act as vectors for several viral infections.

Viruses like the Deformed-Wing-Virus (DWV) are a main factor for colony losses after infestation with V. destructor. These infections together with other emergent diseases like the fungal parasite Nosema ceranae have only unclear symptoms. Beekeepers and veterinarians therefore neglect their importance for honey bee health. Only lately, another bee pest, the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) has invaded Europe and poses an additional problem to beekeeping and honey bee health.

Finally, American Foulbrood, a bacterial disease, is highly contagious and must be reported to veterinarian authorities. Usually, they establish quarantine areas to avoid further spread of the disease.

Are treatments available?

Registered treatments are available only for V. destructor. They control also the virus infections that this mite transmits, if they’re done properly and in time. For other diseases, no veterinary medical products exist. Especially for Southern Europe, treatments for Nosema ceranae would help to control this often neglected disease.
Many diseases are factorial, i.e. good management practices prevent their outbreak and spread. In Europe, no antibiotics are admitted for the treatment of honey bees. Therefore, quarantine areas, technical treatments and/or destruction of the colonies are the common measures for AFB.

What is the role of veterinarians to maintain healthy colonies?

Honey bees (A. mellifera) are livestock, and, therefore, their health management is a core responsibility for veterinarians. Good management practices are key for honey bee health! Veterinarians play an increasingly important role in prophylaxis but also in medical interventions. Honey bee parasites and diseases affect also non-managed bee species and other insects. Due to this ecological impact, honey bee health management has increased importance according to the One Health approach. This concept recognizes the connection between human and animal health and with stable ecosystems. The development of new bee health products, like alternative Varroa treatments as well as first treatments for other honey bee parasites and diseases is highly urgent for maintaining healthy and productive honey bee populations.

What services does BeeSafe offer in honey bee health?

One of BeeSafe’s core expertises lies in honey bee pathology – we help in every step of research and development for honey bee health products. BeeSafe performs pre-clinical and clinical studies for the registration process. In addition, we provide advice in how to approach the development of bee health products for other diseases.

BeeSafe also takes care of the part IV (pre-clinical and clinical studies) of the registration dossier or provides expert reports evaluating new products.

Finally, courses for veterinarians help to approach honey bee parasites and diseases with the necessary knowledge. We offer webinars, practical trainings or in-house seminars – whatever suits you best! Drop us a line to get more information on the possibilities.

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