Can humans catch bee dysentery?

No. Honey bee dysentery is not caused by a pathogen, so it is not “catchable.” Honey bee dysentery arises when the food a winter bee eats is high in solids, usually known as ash. These solids hold water in the gut and cause it to become distended. When the bees endure long periods of time when they cannot fly out of the hive to relieve themselves, they end up defecating inside the hive.

A common disease caused by the microsporidian Nosema apis, also causes dysentery-like symptoms. Nosema apis is a type of fungi that lives in the honey bee gut. The infected bees are unable to properly digest their food, which causes diarrhea and distended abdomens. Symptoms usually show up in late winter or early spring after long periods of confinement. As a result, the disease causes more problems in areas with long winters. A laboratory analysis is required for positive identification of a Nosema infection but, in any case, Nosema is not transmissible to humans.

Comments

trisha
Reply

So how would fermented open stores (a known cause of dysentery) suddenly increase their “ash”? Solids would not be increasing as the hygroscopic properties of honey would be pulling in water and the fermentation process gives alcohol…

Rusty
Reply

Trisha,

You forgot one thing. Fermentation is caused by yeast that land on the open honey. The yeast reproduce like crazy and give off alcohol and carbon dioxide. They multiply exponentially, at least for a while, and their dead bodies accumulate in the substrate they are living in. For example, the slurry at the bottom of an unfiltered ale is dead yeast bodies. The yeast bodies contribute to the solids that cause the dysentery.

Emily
Reply

The funny things people want to know! When I was revising nosema for a bee diseases exam recently, my books said dysentery was not a symptom of nosema but can spread it quickly, due to worker bees cleaning the hive coming into contact with nosema spores in the dysentery faeces. Would you disagree with this and say that dysentery is a direct symptom of nosema apis?

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

The book, Honey Bee Parasites, Pests, Predators and Diseases, published by Penn State University and The Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium says this about Nosema apis: “Damage to the digestive tract may produce symptoms of dysentery (diarrhea).” So your book is probably correct in that Nosema may produce dysentery. Also, the sentence implies that it is the damage to the digestive tract—not the pathogen itself—that causes the dysentery, so dysentery is more or less a secondary symptom.

Emily
Reply

Thanks Rusty. A lot of sources seem to say that dysentery is more associated with nosema apis than nosema ceranae, perhaps the two have different effects on the digestive tracts of bees.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

As far as I know, Nosema ceranae is not associated with dysentery at all. It’s confusing because N. ceranae is more of a summer affliction and N. apis is a winter one. Plain dysentery is definitely a winter problem, so it’s hard to tell what is what without lab tests.

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