How American foulbrood is spread

American foulbrood (AFB) can be spread through four main methods:

  • robbing
  • the feeding of unsterilised honey or pollen
  • the use of contaminated beekeeping equipment
  • drift.


Avoid robbing at all costs. Bees can spread the disease by robbing dead-out hives, cappings, burr comb or stacks of sticky supers.

This facet of bee behaviour starts when bees gain access to sticky combs or burr comb seen when the lid is removed from a full hive and the honey is exposed. Shortening day length, cloudy weather and a lack of nectar stimulate this behaviour.

As it progresses, bees fill the air and become aggressive. Weak hives will be killed-out first and many hives can be lost.

Feeding unsterilised honey or pollen

Never feed cappings honey or extracted honey to bees. This type of honey is a mixture from many hives and the risk of spreading disease is high.

Pollen should be irradiated before use to kill disease organisms. Either have the honey tested for the presence of disease organisms or feed bees sugar syrup.

Contaminated beekeeping equipment

Do not use any equipment unless it has been sterilised or its disease status is known. Hive tools should be burnt with methylated spirits and smokers washed down.

If it is necessary to wear gloves, use and destroy disposable gloves after handling each infected hive.


Drift occurs when bees from one hive enter another. Bees infected with spores of AFB can drift from hive to hive within an apiary, and during open entrance loading and migration on trucks or trailers.