Veterinarians Key to Honey Bee Antibiotic Prescriptions 

Oct 5 | News, Research

By Frances Hegarty, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Apiary Program Coordinator and State Apiarist 

Honey Bees and Veterinarians: Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials 

The Veterinary Feed Directive Final Rule requires a prescription, or a Veterinary Feed Directive order before a beekeeper may administer an antibiotic to their honey bees. This requirement is consistent with the One Health approach to judiciously use medically important antimicrobials to protect animal and human health. The concern about antimicrobial resistance has been linked to beekeepers attempting to treat their hives for European Foulbrood (from the bacterium Melissococcus plutonius.) For example, State Apiarists in the U.S. and Provincial Apiarists in Canada have received anecdotal reports in 2022 of European Foulbrood infections that appear to be resistant to antibiotics. Currently, the available antibiotics are generally considered as a last resort for treatment of EFB, and they should not be administered prophylactically. Hence, if a beekeeper contacts a veterinarian requesting treatment for EFB, confirmation of the disease should occur prior to issuing a prescription. 

Another honey bee disease of specific regulatory concern is American Foulbrood, a disease caused by the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae. If AFB is confirmed to be present in a hive, prescriptions should not be issued for this incurable disease. DATCP often works with beekeepers to issue pest abatement orders when AFB is found so that infected hives can be destroyed before the disease spreads. 

In the early half of the 20th century, AFB caused a great deal of destruction for beekeepers. It affects the prepupae and pupae (or brood) of the beehive and is spread by the honey bees as they fly or if beekeepers move hives or used beekeeping equipment. The bacterium can persist on used equipment for decades. When AFB is detected in a hive, it must be destroyed, often by burning hives and equipment, as antibiotics merely mask the symptoms of AFB, rather than curing it. See the Honey Bee Health Coalition’s Managing Foulbrood Guide (bit.ly/FBrood) for more information. 

Honey Bees and the DATCP Apiary Program 

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are crucial to agriculture for producing honey, pollen, and other hive products, pollinating more than 100 commercially grown crops and contributing to Wisconsin’s beautiful scenery through wildflower pollination. The DATCP Apiary Program (bit.ly/ApiaryProg) operates under State of Wisconsin laws and rules to detect and reduce the risk of potential spread of honey bee pests or diseases. The program includes outreach and education, voluntary honey bee hive inspections, and the enforcement of applicable regulations. In cases related to regulated honey bee pests or diseases, stepped enforcement can include identifying the pest or disease in the field through a field or lab test, working with the beekeeper to achieve voluntary hive destruction, or ordering hive destruction if required. 

Connecting With Wisconsin Beekeepers and DATCP 

If you are a veterinarian with interest and experience with beekeeping, sign up with the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium (hbvc.org) on their “Find a Bee Vet” page, so that beekeepers can easily find you. The Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium refers beekeepers, other veterinarians, and state agencies to this resource when locating a Wisconsin veterinarian who offers beekeeping expertise. 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 
DATCP Apiary Program Pest and Disease Management bit.ly/DATCPpest
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Search “Bees” for drugs labeled for honey bees bit.ly/FDAbee
FDA Veterinary Feed Directive orders bit.ly/VFDorder
DATCP Veterinary Feed Directive orders bit.ly/DATCPvfd 

For more information contact Francis Hegarty at 608-224-4629 or frances.hegarty@wisconsin.gov.