American Foul Brood disease (not fowl brood or breed) is a bacterial infection affecting queen, drone and worker larvae but is not infectious to humans. American foulbrood (AFB) disease does not affect adult bees but can be spread by the ‘nurse bees’ that feed larvae. AFB has recently received significant media attention in South Africa due to the outbreak in the Western Cape. Beekeepers and honey manufacturers are concerned that AFB may decimate the local honey industry if the disease continues to spread.
AFB is caused by Bacillus larvae which occurs in two stages – vegetative (active) and spores (inactive). It is the Bacillus larvae spore that is infectious to honey bees. Upon entering a bee, the spore germinates and the bacteria (vegetative states) multiplies until larval death. AFB is only infectious to larvae that are less than 53 hours old.
The main concern among the public is the health effects of consuming infected honey. AFB is not infectious to humans and any spores within honey poses no threat to humans. The concern relating to AFB is primarly an economic concern considering the vast honey industry within South Africa which employs thousands of workers.
Honey and honey products are safe to consume and should not be discarded or avoided due to AFB. In the light of this current dilemma, any consumer scare fuelled by ignorance will only contribue to the rapid demise of the local honey industry. At a time when the world is panicking over swine flu (2009 H1N1 flu), it is easy for ignorant consumers to make totally unfounded associations with different infectious diseases.
Unlike swine flu, AFB is not capable of a zoonotic infection – humans infected by animal or insect carriers. The outbreak of AFB is a significant concern to the bee and honey industry and unfortunately the only method to eradicate AFB is to destroy any infected colonies or those that are suspected of being infected.
At a time when the world is reeling from an economic slowdown and South Africa is carefully weathering the storm, let us not be taken by media hype. Supporting our local industries are essential for maintaining the health of the South African economy and South African honey is one of those local products that are safe and nutritious.