Persistence of subclinical deformed wing virus infections in honeybees following Varroa mite removal and a bee population turnover

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 7;12(7):e0180910. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180910. eCollection 2017.


Deformed wing virus (DWV) is a lethal virus of honeybees (Apis mellifera) implicated in elevated colony mortality rates worldwide and facilitated through vector transmission by the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor. Clinical, symptomatic DWV infections are almost exclusively associated with high virus titres during pupal development, usually acquired through feeding by Varroa mites when reproducing on bee pupae. Control of the mite population, generally through acaricide treatment, is essential for breaking the DWV epidemic and minimizing colony losses. In this study, we evaluated the effectiveness of remedial mite control on clearing DWV from a colony. DWV titres in adult bees and pupae were monitored at 2 week intervals through summer and autumn in acaricide-treated and untreated colonies. The DWV titres in Apistan treated colonies was reduced 1000-fold relative to untreated colonies, which coincided with both the removal of mites and also a turnover of the bee population in the colony. This adult bee population turnover is probably more critical than previously realized for effective clearing of DWV infections. After this initial reduction, subclinical DWV titres persisted and even increased again gradually during autumn, demonstrating that alternative non-Varroa transmission routes can maintain the DWV titres at significant subclinical levels even after mite removal. The implications of these results for practical recommendations to mitigate deleterious subclinical DWV infections and improving honeybee health management are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Acaricides / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Bees / parasitology
  • Bees / virology*
  • Disease Vectors
  • Ectoparasitic Infestations / parasitology
  • Ectoparasitic Infestations / prevention & control*
  • Ectoparasitic Infestations / virology
  • Picornaviridae / drug effects*
  • Picornaviridae / growth & development
  • Picornaviridae / pathogenicity
  • Pupa / parasitology
  • Pupa / virology
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Seasons
  • Tick Control / methods*
  • Varroidae / drug effects*
  • Varroidae / virology
  • Viral Load / drug effects


  • Acaricides
  • RNA, Viral

Grant support

Financial support was provided to BL by the Swedish Board of Agriculture (Nationella Honungsprogrammet, Jordbruksverket) and The Swedish Research Council, Formas (diarienr. 2012–1060). The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.