Florida Extension Beekeeping Newsletter
Apis--Apicultural Information and Issues (ISSN 0889-3764)
Volume 11, Number 7, July 1993
HONEY BEE HEALTH--WHEN IS A COLONY SICK?
A recent Article in American Bee Journal (June, 1993, pp. 431-
434) by Jost Dustmann discusses the natural defense mechanisms
protecting the health of the honey bee. It asks a provocative
question: when is a social organism like the bee colony sick?
The presence of pathogens, the article continues, in a colony,
single bees, food or wax does not mean a colony is sick (emphasis
is mine). Only when the number of diseased or dead bees, larvae or
pupae exceeds a certain limit and normal functioning of the colony
is disturbed, is a colony deemed sick. A small loss of infected
bees and developmental stages is necessary for any healthy colony.
The article discusses ten main defense mechanisms honey bees
have against diseases and pests:
1. Cleaning or grooming behavior of adults. Some call this
"hygienic behavior." It is the basis for several breeding programs
in the U.S. This pattern includes: (a) single infected bees
reacting quickly by dying soon and removing themselves as a source
of infection and/or (b) sister bees quickly identifying abnormal
(diseased) individuals (adults, larvae and pupae) and eliminating
them from the population. Hygienic behavior is shown to be
effective against American foulbrood, nosema, chalkbrood, sacbrood
and paralysis. The article also indicates it will probably be
involved in resistance to Varroa mites in European bees as has been
observed in Asian species.
2. Quickly regenerating losses of population. This is extremely
effective as removal of diseased individuals can be compensated for
in a short time. The ability to replace bees rapidly generally
outstrips even the greatest current threat to populations, the
Varroa bee mite.
3. Continuous rotation of bee generations. Brood followed by
adults followed by brood is analogous to crop rotation in
commercial agriculture, where growing of one crop is often followed
by sowing another. The article suggests a good example of this is
tracheal mite infestation, which cannot keep up with replacement of
bees by a colony in normal times. There is also evidence of active
movement of mites into older bees. However, when older bees live
longer, the mites may get the upper hand.
4. Swarming. A major defense is building new wax combs after bees
swarm from their old colony. This appears to be a predominant
strategy of African honey bees, which not only swarm, but also
abandon (abscond from) their nests.
5. Restricting disease to either larvae or adults. This strategy
ensures that if larvae are diseased, adults are not and vice versa.
Both stone brood and Varroa are exceptions to this rule.
6. Control of fertility and population control. More in evidence
in Varroa infestations, the mite's preference for drone brood
deflects parasitization away from workers. In addition, the heavy
cappings on affected drone brood, if left intact, ensure no mites
7. Immune reactions. Observed in single adult bees, this has not
been shown for the colony as a whole. Bactericidal molecules
(peptides) are formed in individual bees and consumption of foreign
materials (phagocytosis) by blood (hemolymph) cells has also been
8. Stinging and biting. The first is self-evident. Biting has
been shown to be a defense mechanism against Varroa, but found at
low levels in European bees.
9. Proventriculus and peritrophic membrane. The former structure
prevents entry of foreign organisms (bacteria, pathogens) from the
crop or honey stomach into the digestive system. The latter lines
the digestive tract, protecting it from rough materials and also
preventing entry of bacteria and fungi into the hemolymph.
10. Antibiotic substances. An extremely important aspect of the
honey bee's defenses, these chemicals can be found in honey (called
"inhibine"), stored pollen and propolis (flavonoids, terpenes).
These substances have also been implicated in human health
concerns, including the use of diluted honey as a surgical dressing
and consumption of propolis as preventative medicine.
The article concludes with another question: How can the
beekeeper manage bees without interfering with the above natural
strategies? There are five recommendations:
1. Selecting and breeding bees that have the necessary defense
mechanisms already in place. Controlled mating is seen as
2. Ensuring the environment provides enough of the right food for
bees. If not, then the beekeeper must feed both carbohydrate
(sugar) and protein (pollen substitute/supplement).
3. Determining the beehive is the right size with reference to
colony size and management practices. Establishing artificial
swarms that build new combs and uniting young colonies with older
ones established the year before ensure rotation of bees and wax.
Routinely replacing old combs is something every beekeeper should
4. Keeping bees without using drugs (emphasis the author's). In
general, the article concludes that medical treatment of a colony
will interfere with the natural defense mechanisms discussed above.
This is especially true for antibiotics, which cannot eradicate
infections, but only mask symptoms, leading to sometimes huge
reservoirs of disease ready to break out at any moment. One
exception to this, however, is the use of a registered pesticide to
control Varroa, an absolute necessity.
APITHERAPY AND HUMAN HEALTH
The latest Bee Well newsletter, April, 1993, of the American
Apitherapy Society (AAS) contains evidence that the activities of
the Society are increasing and that the use of apitherapy by some
physicians is on the rise. This year's AAS annual meeting and
scientific symposium was held in May in Baltimore. The Society is
attempting to get a group together to travel to China in
conjunction with the World Apicultural Congress, which will attend
Dr. Fang Zhu's International Conference on Apitherapy in Nanjing,
September 27-30, 1993. Cost is approximately $4,000.00; for more
information contact Mr. Michael Renaker, Citizen Ambassador
The newsletter contains an introductory letter by President
Weeks: "...the AAS has begun an historic working relationship for
the first time with the National Institute of Health. Up until
now, only foreign governmental scientific agencies have accepted
our challenge to research the merits of apitherapy. The National
Multi-Center Apitherapy Study (NMCAS)...constitutes approximately
6,000 cases." These include 250 multiple sclerosis patients, 1800
arthritic patients, and 50 gout patients. If you or your physician
have information on cases that are being effectively treated with
apitherapy, you should contact Dr. Weeks and fill out a form for
the NMCAS database.
A feature article concerning venom therapy and arthritis
published in 1988: J. Rheumatology, 15:10: 1461 was reprinted with
permission in the newsletter. It concludes: "Based on accumulating
evidence, venom therapies merit attention both for possible
(adjunctive) clinical value and as a probe to better understand the
pathogenesis of inflammatory arthritis." A footnote suggests much
has been learned since this article was published.
Two articles published in the American Bee Journal (March,
1993) are also reprinted. One is by Pat Wagner, Waldorf, MD,
301/843-8350, telling about her experiences with bee stings and
multiple sclerosis (M.S.): "...when they (doctors) give medicines
(ACTH, steroids, antibiotics, etc.) they are giving the adrenal
glands (your internal get-well system) a day off for bad behavior.
Bee stings tell your adrenal glands 'Hey! Wake up! You are going to
work overtime until this person is well again. What have you got
to lose? A wheelchair? Numbness? Rigidity? Incontinence?...whatever
it is, go ahead and lose it...you have everything to gain."
Charles Mraz, arguably, the U.S.' longest active beekeeper
practitioner (60 years!) of apitherapy, details his experiences
treating M.S. cases, almost all responding well, some dramatically.
Mr. Mraz will be visiting China, and he and Dr. Weeks recently
spent time in France at that country's equivalent of the U.S. NIH.
Kate Chatot, a Registered Nurse (RN), shares her experiences
in a column entitled, "Kate's View." This is a moving account of
using bee venom therapy to treat "L'hermitte's sign," a painful
electric shock accompanying a flare up of M.S. The symptoms were
alleviated in one week with the help of 46 bee stings. Ordinarily,
this would have meant some three months of serious disability.
A review of world scientific literature in this issue
publishes abstracts about venom and allergy, glaucoma, M.S.,
Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and inflammation.
There follows a number of letters to the editor from persons who
have had venom therapy for tennis elbow, arthritis (3), M.S. (3),
melanoma, numbness, optic neuritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Finally, the newsletter publishes a statement from Charles
Pixley, President of Writers and Research, Inc. entitled: "Health
Care Reform...Another View," and sent to the Clinton transition
team for consideration. The current system of health care,
according to this statement, is that the industry of medicine has
become driven by decision making prejudiced by commercial
considerations to the obvious detriment of "health care." A
resolution then calls for (1) removal of the Medical Practice Acts,
the legislation that U.S. medical practice is based on, (2) a
mandate that insurance companies cover "alternative" treatments and
all branches of the healing arts be made available to every member
of society and the medical profession without prejudice and (3)
elimination of funding for NIH, CDC and FDA, considered reactive,
not proactive in health care issues. It concludes: "...'fear of
quackery' harbored by the prevailing body of medical government has
prevented the medical professionals from expanding their knowledge
and providing these alternative treatments."
For those interested in bee venom therapy, contact the
American Apitherapy Society, Bradford Weeks, President, P.O. Box
74, North Hartland, VT 05052, ph 802/295-6383. Membership is set at
$30.00 per year. In addition, the Society offers annotated
bibliographies of apitherapy, proceedings of the Society's annual
meeting, back issues of the newsletter and other information.
Now, for my experiences. I personally know two individuals
who were repeatedly stung throughout their apicultural careers and
yet came down with diseases that venom therapy has been recommended
for. One case involves a professional beekeeper who remains
afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Another is a scientist who late
in life contracted Parkinson's disease. Why did exposure to venom
not prevent their conditions? To my knowledge, neither of these
individuals has undergone bee venom therapy. If they did, would
their situations improve?
Some clues to answer these questions may be provided in how
one defines "therapy." The system may need to be continually
challenged by venom and dosages are critical. As Dr. Jean-Marie
Van Dyck <JMVANDYCK@BNANDP51.BITNET> recently wrote on the Bee-L
network <BEE-L@ALBYNVM1>, "The 'Mast Cell Degranulating (MCD)
Ile-Cys-Arg-Lys-Ile-Cys-Gly-Lys-Asn-NH2, two disulfide bonds Cys3-
Cys15 and Cys5-Cys19] is present in small amounts in the venom of
the European honeybee, Apis mellifera. This highly basic peptide
causes, at low doses, mast cell degranulation and subsequent
histamine release (inflammation, swelling, irritation). At higher
doses, it produces an anti-inflammatory effect, which may be
beneficial in rheumatic and allergic diseases. Dr. Van Dyck gives
two references: Dempsey C.E. (1982) "Selective formulation of a-
amino group or s-amino group of peptides." J. Chem. Soc. Perkin
Trans I 1982(11), p2625-2629, 28 ref. Univ of London, Univ. Coll.
Christopher Ingold Labs, and Buku A., Blandina P., Birr C. & Gazis
D. (1989) "Solid-phase synthesis and biological activity of Mast
Cell Degranulating (MCD) peptide, a component of bee venom." Int.
J. Peptide Protein Res. 33(2), p86-93, 58 ref. Cuny Mt. Sinai Sch.
Med., Dept Physiol & Biophys, NY. With reference to the last
study, Dr. Van Dyck concludes: "...a really immunized beekeeper
doesn't keep a very long time this peptide avidly catched by his
own immunoglobulins !" I purposefully kept that colorful speech
pattern for emphasis.
An interesting postscript to the above is that "new" drugs can
sometimes cause unknown complications. For example, a recent re-
published article in the Newsletter of the Florida State Beekeepers
Association, obtained from the Maryland Beekeeping Newsletter,
indicates that at least two cases have been reported of anti-
inflammatory drug (ibuprofen, fenoprofen, naproxen, etc.) use
correlated with loss of immunity to bee stings, resulting in
allergic reactions. This originally was published in Understanding
Prescription Drugs by Dorothy L. Smith (pp. 270-271) and referenced
in the British Medical Journal 292:378, 1986. The bottom line from
all this is apparent. There's still a lot to learn.
Malcolm T. Sanford
Bldg 970, Box 110620
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
Phone (904) 392-1801, Ext. 143
BITNET Address: MTS@IFASGNV
INTERNET Address: MTS@GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU