Clustering, persistence and control of a pollinator brood disease: epidemiology of American foulbrood

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SummaryAmerican foulbrood (AFB), caused byPaenibacillus larvae, is the most damaging bacterial brood disease of the honeybee (Apis mellifera), causing colony deaths on all continents where honeybees are managed. AFB has been a persistent problem in the UK for over 70 years, with a fluctuating number of cases discovered annually. Once diseased colonies are identified, they are destroyed to reduce pathogen spread. We investigated the pattern of AFB cases recorded over the period 1994 to 2012 using spatial-statistical approaches, with a view to identifying the nature of spread across England and Wales. Our results indicated that AFB exhibits significant spatial aggregation at distances from 10 to 30 km, with aggregations lasting between 1 and 5 years. Kernel smoothing indicated areas of elevated relative risk in different years, and these were further detailed by spatial-scan statistics. We identified disease clusters and successfully estimated their size, location and duration. The majority of clusters did not persist in all years, indicating that management measures may lead to localized extinction of the disease. Whilst less common, persistent clusters likely indicate potential endemic or exotic risk points. The application of robust epidemiological approaches to improve the control of AFB is discussed.

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