How to Identify and Treat Common Bee Diseases

The delicate and beauteous honeybee has been a mainstay of agriculture since Neolithic times, but even these hard-working insects can succumb to various diseases and ailments. If you’re a beekeeper, it is important to learn how to identify and treat such common diseases, so that your bees stay healthy and productive. Read on to learn how to detect and address various bee pathogens.

1. Bee Basics: What to Know Before Identifying and Treating Common Bee Diseases

Bees are essential pollinators and vital to the health of the planet. But, like all living beings, they’re also susceptible to diseases. Every beekeeper needs to know the basics of recognizing and treating common bee disease in order to protect their hive and to ensure its long-term health and productivity. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Varroa Mites – Varroa mites are perhaps the biggest threat to bee health. They feed on the bee’s hemolymph, otherwise known as bee blood, reducing the bee’s lifespan significantly and weakens its immune system.
  • American Foulbrood – American Foulbrood is the most widespread and destructive bee disease, caused by spores which bacteria produce themselves. This bacteria is highly contagious and often results in the collapse of the hive.

It’s important to recognize these two diseases early as they can often spread quickly and cause a great deal of damage if not addressed immediately. For Varroa mites, treatments including acetic acid and essential oils such as tea tree and lemongrass are quite effective, while for American Foulbrood, a specialized antibiotic called Terramycin or sulfonamide is the suggested treatment.

More often than not, prevention is the best course of action. This includes regular hive inspections, minimizing hive stress, ensuring adequate nutrition and timely treatments.

2. The Problem: Identifying Common Bee Diseases

Beekeeping demands the preservation of bee health and prevention of diseases. Common bee diseases are often difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms can be quite similar. This makes it challenging for beekeepers to properly treat the hive.

Aphids, also known as plant lice, are a common disease in bees, which feed on and damage the plant material in the hive. Aphids cause yellowing, wilting and death of surrounding plants and can transmit viruses between colonies. Treatment involves the use of insecticides and removing affected plants.

American Foulbrood (AFB) is a specific disease caused by a bacterium, which is highly contagious in bee colonies. Symptoms include larval death, a foul smell, and pupae in advanced decay stages. Treatment of AFB requires the use of antibiotics and the destruction of affected hives.

Varroa Mite is another common bee disease; this particular parasite is the result of a microscopic mite that feeds on adult bees and larvae. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, decreased pollination, deformed wings on adult bees, and changes in the behaviour and hygiene of the colony. Treatment for Varroa mites includes the use of chemical treatments and traps.

These are only a few of the many bee diseases that beekeepers may encounter in their hives. To avoid the spread of such diseases, beekeepers must carefully monitor their hives and take preventive and treatment steps promptly.

  • Regularly inspect hives to look for signs of disease
  • Read and become familiarised with the symptoms of common bee diseases
  • Identify common and specific treatments
  • Be cautious when taking steps to treat diseases

3. Tools of the Trade: What You’ll Need to Diagnose and Treat

Diagnosing and treating any illness or injury starts with having the right tools for the job. Whether you’re in a hospital, clinic, or at-home environment, these medical tools will help you provide excellent care. Here’s a look at the essential medical equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment:


  • Stethoscopes for listening to pulses and heart sounds.
  • Sphygmomanometer for taking blood pressure.
  • Otoscope and Ophthalmoscope for examining ear, nose, and throat health.
  • Reflex hammer for testing neural activity.

Diagnostic Equipment

  • X-ray machines and ultrasounds for imaging body parts.
  • Slit lamps for conducting ophthalmologic exams.
  • ECGs and EEGs for measuring electrical activity in the heart and brain.
  • CT scanners and MRI machines for creating detailed images of internal structures.

Laboratory Supplies

  • Microscopes to observe microscopic objects.
  • Test tubes and other glassware for testing bodily fluids.
  • Lab centrifuges for separating components of a given sample.
  • Reagents for preparing biological samples for testing.

Apart from these tools, you’ll also need to have plenty of disposable medical supplies such as bandages and gauze pads, antibiotics, and syringes and needles. As a medical practitioner, being well-stocked with the necessary supplies is key to effective diagnosis and treatment.

4. Diagnosing Diseases: How to Spot Symptoms

If you are concerned about your health, it pays to understanding how to assess and spot the symptoms of a potential disease. This allows you to get to your doctor sooner and allows the treatments to be more effective. To diagnose a potential disease:

  • Pay close attention to any persistent symptoms that last longer than a week.
  • Be aware of any new, out-of-the-ordinary symptoms.
  • Write down any symptoms you experience, and when they occur.

It is important to note however, that not all diseases are easy to spot. If you have any concerns about your health, you should consult a doctor. The general rule of thumb is that if you are worried about it, then it is worth getting checked. In cases when the cause of the symptoms are difficult to determine, doctors may suggest tests to identify the cause.

Other signs and symptoms may indicate an underlying medical condition as well. These range from changes in your body weight or even your sleep patterns, fatigue, or depression. Taking note of these changes can provide clues to what may be causing the disease. As always, your doctor is the best resource to help you identify and diagnose any potential diseases.

5. Treating Common Bee Diseases

The world of beekeeping comes with its own set of challenges, such as ailments, pests, and diseases. It’s vital to stay on top of these issues to ensure the wellbeing of your bee population and their honey yields. Here are the five most common bee diseases and how to treat them.


  • Nosemosis is caused by a tiny fungus that infects the gut lining of the bee.
  • The infected bee may have difficulty maintaining its balance, have shortened life spans and lower honey yields.
  • Treatment options include fumigation with acetic acid, sugar dusting, and formic acid. Nucs are a good way to prevent the spread of infection.

American Foulbrood

  • American foulbrood is caused by an aggressive bacteria, which can destroy several hives within a short period.
  • The infection can spread from hive to hive and is fatal if left untreated. Affected hives may have a foul smell and decaying brood.
  • Treatment can involve applying antibiotics to the inside and outside of the hive or by using coumaphos strips to fumigate the brood.

European Foulbrood

  • European foulbrood is caused by a spore-forming bacteria and is not as deadly as American foulbrood.
  • The infected larvae may discolor and emit a foul smell. Beekeepers should take caution, however, as the bacteria may cause a decrease in egg and larval production.
  • Treatment includes antibiotic treatments or the use of a menthol crystal vaporizer as a preventative method.

Sacbrood Virus

  • Sacbrood virus is manifested by the sick larvae’s inability to properly form a hive cell.
  • The larvae will often die in their cells or molt prematurely. This virus can be easily spread by contact between hives so make sure to separate them if you find a hive infected.
  • A good preventative measure is to keep the hives in healthy and optimal conditions, as well as sanitizing the equipment used.


  • Chalkbrood is caused by a fungus that turns the larvae into chalk-like masses near the bottom of the hive.
  • The infected larvae may also be covered in white fuzz. This disease is not as deadly as some of the others, but it should still be monitored as it can still cause some damage to the hive.
  • Treatment options include reducing the amount of stress in the hive, using a disinfectant solution to treat the brood, and using Menthol crystals to keep the hive clean.

6. Enhancing Bee Immune Systems

In recent years, honeybee colonies have seen significant declines globally. As such, beekeepers and scientists have been exploring ways to help boost bee immune systems and ensure bee health for the future. There are many approaches that have recently been examined, testing both old and new tactics.

  • Varroa Mite Mitigation Methods – Improved management of the Varroa mite is an important factor in any bee health program. This includes timely detection of varroa infestations, the use of pollen traps, and the proper application of essential oils, such as thymol, to kill varroa.
  • Nutrition – When bees are given more diverse sources of nutrition and a nutrient-rich diet, their immune systems become more robust and better able to fight off disease. Feeding bees supplemental sources of protein, such as pollen, can also help bolster the immune system.
  • Better Genetics – Selectively breeding bees resistant to disease is another potential way to help improve bee health and boost the bee immune system. Recent advances in genetic engineering have enabled the development of disease-resistant bee lines which could have a major impact on beekeeping and hive production.

Finally, there is also some evidence that exposure to certain types of light may be beneficial for bees. A red light-emitting diode (LED) was recently used to significantly reduce the amount of pathogens present in a colony of bees. These are just a few of the ways that researchers and beekeepers are hoping to improve bee health and increase the lifespan of honeybee colonies.

7. Prevention: Steps to Protect Colonies From Disease

Colonies of bees are essential to our environment and agricultural systems, so it’s vital to protect them from the dangers of disease. Here are 7 steps you can take to help maintain and protect your bee colonies:

  • Provide Nutritious Food Sources: Make sure your bees have access to a variety of nutritious protein and sugar sources. Flower nectar and sugar water are great sources of energy and nourishment for the colony.
  • Eliminate Pests: Remove any potential pests that can spread diseases through your bees. This includes wax moths, mites, acid beetles, and other unwelcome visitors.
  • Reduce Stress: Stress is a major factor in weakening colonies and leaving them vulnerable to disease. Keep stress levels down by providing a safe, comfortable environment for your bees.
  • Monitor the Colony: Stay informed on the health of your colony by performing regular inspections to look for signs of disease or distress.
  • Vaccinate Your Bees: Vaccinating your bees can help to bolster their immune systems and protect the entire colony from disease.
  • Use Resistant Strains of Bees: Strains of bees have been bred to be more resistant to common diseases. Consider using these bees in your existing colonies to give them an extra layer of protection.
  • Encourage Hygiene: Keeping your bees clean can help drastically reduce the spread of disease. Encourage frequent hive cleanings and discourage behaviors such as excessive swarming, which can cause bee overcrowding.

Disease can be a major threat to bee colonies, but with these steps, you can help to protect your bees and keep them healthy and strong.

8. Bee Responsibly: The Risks of Undiagnosed and Untreated Bee Diseases

Bees are essential for our planet, and beekeepers have a responsibility to maintain and sustain bee health. But what happens when a beekeeper doesn’t take the time to properly diagnose and treat a bee disease? Unfortunately, it can lead to a variety of serious threats for the local and global bee population.

The biggest risk when bee diseases go untreated is that they spread rapidly. It’s important to be on the lookout for any symptoms of contagious, dangerous bee diseases, such as:

  • Sacbrood
  • Chalkbrood
  • Nosema
  • Varroa Mites

These diseases can quickly infect an entire bee population, leading to large losses of bees. Bees infected with diseases also threaten the health of surrounding bee populations, as the diseases easily spread from colony to colony.

In order to minimize the spread of bee diseases, beekeepers need to be vigilant and knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of any diseases that might afflict their bees. Timely diagnosis and treatment are essential, as well as the implementation of preventative measures, such as the use of screened bottom boards. If a beekeeper suspects their colony has been infected with a disease, they should immediately seek out professional help.

Being responsible for our bees and their health is an important part of being a beekeeper. Taking the time to recognize warning signs and get the right diagnosis can make all the difference in the health and happiness of our bees. If you’ve picked up some great tips on how to identify and treat bee diseases, then you’re now well-equipped to prevent and monitor anything that could endanger bee health. Knowledge is power, and when it comes to beekeeping, your mindfulness today could save many bee lives tomorrow!

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