A chemical sprayed last week in three Indiana counties to stop the spread of a virus deadly to humans may have killed a number of bee hives in the process.
State health officials sprayed a mosquito-killing chemical called Dibrom in Elkhart, Noble and LaGrange counties in an effort to prevent the spread of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus, which has been detected in horses and mosquitoes in Northern Indiana.
EEE virus, sometimes called Triple-E, has a fatality rate of about 33% and is particularly deadly for children and the elderly. There are typically relatively few cases of EEE each year, but this year there have been cases in three states, including Michigan.
Spraying for mosquitoes is an effort to keep the mosquito-borne illness at bay and ensure the safety of Hoosiers, but Indiana’s bee population may also be affected.
Beekeepers are concerned that the chemical could cause the deaths of entire hives, according to WSBT South Bend.
Mosquito pesticides have previously proven deadly to bees. In 2016 in South Carolina, a similar decision to spray for mosquitoes after several cases of Zika virus were confirmed in the state resulted in the deaths of million bees.
“I talked to a beekeeper this morning, who already has been to several hives collecting honey, and he’s found two hives dead,” James Kendall, owner of the Green Bee Farm, told WBST. “The bees are not in the hive, there is nothing in the hive at all – it’s totally empty.”
Beekeepers such as Kendall advocated for better communication between beekeepers and state officials, stating that many beekeepers need up to three weeks to be able to properly cover or move their hives.
However, with the higher-than-usual instance of EEE diagnoses in the United States this year, officials are primarily concerned for Hoosiers’ health. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, EEE virus can cause severe brain inflammation and lifelong health complications in survivors.
“We’re doing our best to make sure that the population of LaGrange and Noble counties are kept safe from this threat,” Noble County Health Office Dr. Terry Gaff told WANE. “It’s a rare problem in the first place, but we believe we can control this in a way that will prevent event he first human case in our area by trying to get rid of the mosquito vector as much as possible.”
It is currently unclear how many bees have been affected by last week’s spraying. More information should be available later this week.