NEW HONEY BEE VACCINE FOR AFB

Posted March 20, 2024
by Hilary

A newly vaccinated queen passes on protection from AFB to her brood.

Did you know there is a new honey bee vaccine? You may have heard about Dalan Animal Health in the news lately. They developed a groundbreaking vaccine that protects honey bees from American Foulbrood (AFB). Read on to find out how the vaccine works and how you can use it in your apiary.

What is AFB?

AFB is one of the most devastating honey bee diseases. It’s caused by bacterial spores, Paenibacillus larvae, that infect the bees’ gut and it’s very contagious. Infected larvae die after they are capped in their cells. Instead of pupating normally, they turn into a gooey mass, later drying into a hard scale that releases more spores. Outbreaks can come out of nowhere and there’s actually no cure for it. In fact, if you are unlucky enough to get an outbreak of AFB, the standard practice is to burn all of your hives and equipment. So, having a vaccine that can prevent this from happening is incredibly valuable.

An AFB infected larva with characteristic ropeyness. Image by Margarita M. López-Uribe

How Does the Vaccine Work?

Now, you are probably wondering how can we possibly protect the whole colony, are we injecting each bee with a vaccine? No, only the queen needs to be vaccinated and the way it works is really fascinating!

The first thing to know is that the vaccine isn’t made of chemicals and it doesn’t contain and GMOs or anything like that. It’s just dead AFB bacteria. It’s also not injected into any of the bees. It’s fed to them.

So, queen breeders can vaccinate their queens by mixing the vaccine into a sugar candy. It’s then fed to the queens via worker attendants. The queens are caged with 5 or 6 worker bees and some candy that contains the vaccine. When the workers digest the vaccinated candy, it transfers to the glands they use to make royal jelly. Now, when they feed the queen royal jelly, she gets the vaccine, too. After she’s eaten enough of it, it transfers to her ovaries and that means that every egg she lays from that point on now has the protection of the vaccine! So, every bee emerges from their cell already resistant to AFB infection.

Dalan Animal Health Honey Bee Vaccine prevents American Foulbrood.

A Sustainable Solution to AFB

It should be noted that this is a completely safe and sustainable way to protect our bees from AFB and keep them healthy.  In the past, beekeepers have attempted to control AFB with regular applications of antibiotics, but this is not good for colony health plus, it contributes to antibiotic resistance which is a growing issue.

So, Do You Really Need This Vaccine?

YES! The latest research found that 50% of colonies have AFB present at a subclinical level which means it could be silently waiting to take hold in your apiary. The good news is that it’s super easy to protect your bees. You don’t have to learn to use the vaccine yourself, you can purchase already vaccinated queens and packages from one of Dalan’s certified retailers or if you’re a producer contact Dalan for a quote. Head to Dalan’s website for more information.

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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