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Beekeeper’s Notes May 2016: ‘Darling, I think I’ve Got A Notifiable Disease’

Published on: 1 May, 2016
Updated on: 4 May, 2016

Hugh Coakley, who keeps bees in Worplesdon, talks about having a notifiable disease and what he had to do about his fears.

“Darling, I think I’ve got a notifiable disease” is not the sort of sentence that you want to deliver to your wife at any time. This was no exception.

I had just come back from a hive inspection at the allotment and I felt very low indeed.

I had seen in one of my hives what I thought could potentially be a disease which must be reported to the authorities. Some diseases, once diagnosed, require destruction of the hive and the bees. So, it is a serious issue to face.

Lovely pearly white larvae next to brood waiting to hatch

Healthy pearly white larvae next to brood which is sealed with wax and waiting to hatch. There is pollen in some cells.

The hive in question was very strong with at least 10 frames of good brood just waiting to hatch into worker bees. I saw several larvae though which didn’t quite look right in my experience.

There appeared to be a spec of black in the centre of the larvae and, while it was the right colour – a pearly white – it did not look to be quite the right shape.

European Foul Brood

European Foul Brood is evident in some of the larvae in this photograph. Discoloured and twisted larvae within the cell rather than white and curled up is a sign of European Foul Brood, sometimes known as EFB.

I had learnt about European Foul Brood (EFB) and American Foul Brood (AFB) and seen photos. But it is a very different thing if you think it may be in one of your own hives.

So I went home and told my wife, who, as you might expect, was very tolerant of my problem.

“Call the bee inspector” we agreed.

American Foul Brood (AFB) with a sunken sealed brood

The photograph shows a couple of cells where the wax capping is sunken and discoloured which is a sign of American Foul Brood, sometimes known as AFB. EFB and AFB are both notifiable diseases. They can be spread in many ways including on the beekeeper’s clothing.

Each region in the country has bee inspectors employed by the National Bee Unit. Our region, South East England, has one regional bee inspector supported by four seasonal inspectors and covers a huge area – East Sussex, Greater London, Kent, Surrey and West Sussex.

You will not be surprised to hear that they are very busy.

Bee inspectors are generally local beekeepers themselves so they often know the poor beekeeper that has the worry of a potentially reportable problem.

My inspector was no exception. He was a member of Guildford Beekeepers’ Association and came within a week. To my relief, he gave my hives the all clear.

Very nicely, he reassured me that I had done the right thing. He would rather come out and find no problem that not be called out at all and have disease running rampant through the region.

So, a good ending for me and for the bees as it could have ended in death and disaster for them.

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