Beekeepers have an increasingly difficult time keeping their bees healthy. Whether it is mites, a stunning array of viruses, small hive beetle or the two versions nosema, Nosema apis and its more virulent cousin, Nosema ceranae, there seems no end of ways for bees to get sick and die.
The Canadian and U.S. governments recently moved to restrict access to medications beekeepers use to treat for American Foulbrood. It is part of a greater effort to put such antimicrobial medications behind prescription counters. They want to reduce the potential for resistance to develop in the suite of antibiotics farmers use to treat diseases, as well as reduce “minimum residue levels” of medications from building up farmed foods for sale. Beekeepers are not excluded but could be disproportionately affected because there are few private veterinarians qualified, trained or interested in diagnosing bee diseases.
Now, it seems, we have one less method for keeping our bees healthy, and with no replacement medication in sight.
On Thursday Medivet Pharmaceuticals Ltd., the Canadian company that produces and sell’s the world’s only medication known or approved to work against Nosema, announced it was shutting down. Not just shutting down its nosema medication production facility, but the entire company.
Medivet owner Ursula Da Rugna said in a letter to customers that their raw material supplier for Fumagilin-B has shut down production of the active ingredient, fumagiline-dch. “Unfortunately, there is no other place in the world to buy this product from,” she wrote. (See letter below.)
“The production and sale of Fumagilin-B has been the bread and butter for Medivet Pharmaceuticals for many years. We regret to inform you that this development is forcing us to shut down our operations.
“Once all our inventories have been sold we will dismantle our facilities; it is expected we will be closed by June 2018.”
This is no small catastrophe for beekeepers.
How Nosema Affects Honey Bees
For more than 70 years research has shown that fumagilin works against Nosema apis, a microsporidian parasite that can decimate honey bees. The disease inflames the midgut of the bee. It is most prevalent in colder climates. In winter bees do not normally leave the hive to defecate and they store up the undigestible pollen shells in their gut. On a warm enough day they will leave for voiding flights. But Nosema acts almost like dysentery, causing bees to void uncontrollably. The parasite is spread very, very quickly. It is the most disheartening thing too open up a hive in the spring and find the hive has perished through mass dysentery. The mess is unbelievable, too.
Research has shown that Fumagilin B (which also goes by the trade name Fumadil-B) is most effective on the strain Nosema apis. It may not be as effective on its Asiatic cousin Nosema ceranae. Regardless, as the only one on the market the medication has been a lifesaver. It is also one of the few bee medications that both Canada and the US had excluded from the looming antimicrobial registration changes. That’s because it doesn’t appear to remain traceable in honey and has a very short half-life. However, recent research suggests that may not actually be the case.
Will Shutdown of Medivet Mean Much To Beekeepers?
I spoke to Ursula on Thursday and she said the shutdown was unavoidable. She said she was informed by the manufacturer after the fact that it would no longer produce fumagiline-dch (dicyclohexylamine). She could give no reason for why the supplier of this “strain”, which she said was the only one in the world, had decided to halt production.
Ursula noted that in Europe and much of the southern U.S. Fumagilin is not used in large quantities. The medication is mostly used by beekeepers in colder climates where bees cluster over winter and therefore cannot go on voiding flights as often.
To add to this mystery, Medivet recently posted on its website that it had been the victim of a Fumagilin-B counterfeiting operation. It warned of a cheap knockoff.
“Medivet’s label for Fumagilin-B has been illegally copied and someone is selling Fumagilin-B very cheaply as a counterfeit product. If you bought the product from an unreliable source or are unsure if you have the real Fumagilin-B please do not hesitate to contact us for verification. Tel. + 1403 652 4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org Please note Medivet does NOT sell Fumagilin-B anywhere in Turkey or any Middle Eastern Countries.” The note does not indicate whether the knockoff is actually effective.
Of course, there has already been a run on the existing supplies of Fumagilin-B, and Medivet is virtually out of stock.
Our Own Experience With Nosema
We know from personal experience that Nosema is no small or inconsequential disease. We purchased Swan Valley Honey last July, just after the former owner had a serious outbreak that in part contributed to a 45 per cent overwintering loss of his colonies. Tests of some of the dead bees showed infection levels 10 times the rate at which medication is normally recommended.
As a result, we literally have about three years’ supply of Fumagilin-B sitting in our refrigerator, the result of the former owner purchasing a large supply in an effort to stave off larger losses.
Hopefully that will be enough until a new producer of fumagilin-dch comes along. But in the meantime, beekeepers are going to be without a much-needed arrow in their thin quiver of api-medicines.
Downloadable copy of Medivet Letter