RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Honeybees around the country are under attack from a disease that can wipe out whole colonies in a matter of days, and this creates a danger of affecting our food supply.

However, there’s a new treatment now being tested that could help save the bees.

Some are calling it a bee vaccine, although there are no needles or injections involved.

Bees are an integral part of our food chain. Without them, much of the food we eat won’t grow because it’ll remain unpollinated.

“If you can imagine every third bite of food being gone, that’s what would happen if there were no honeybees,” beekeeper Walter Schumacher said.

Honeybee colonies are being attacked by a spore-forming bacterium called American Foulbrood, that easily infects bees. 

Professor David Tarpy, an Apiculture Extension Specialist at North Carolina State University, said the disease can devastate a colony.

“It usually [takes] days to weeks,” he said. “It spreads not just in a colony, but from colony to colony and the spores can stay in used equipment for decades.”

Once a hive is killed off by the disease, it will rapidly spread to other locations.

“When a colony dies out from this, other bees come in to rob the now unprotected honey and spread the spores to other colonies,” Tarpy said.

Here in North Carolina, honeybees pollinate about $20 million worth of crops, data shows. Nationally, that number reaches $20 billion, so how do you protect the bees?

The answer is to make the queen immune by feeding her specially-treated food.

“She is exposed to that by feeding her some candy, sugar candy, so the queen gets dead bacteria,” Tarpy said.

The queen then develops an immunity that she passes on to her offspring.

“The idea is to prime the queen so that the colonies are less likely to get American Foulbrood,” he said.

The treatment was developed by a Georgia-based firm that specializes in animal health.

What’s unknown right now is how long this immunity will last.

Since queens live three to four years, will she have to be given a booster every year? Researchers are still studying that, they said.

Because beekeepers can’t use antibiotics, this vaccine-like treatment is their best hope in fighting this disease.

The treatment is currently being used under conditional approval from the USDA.

If it works, it could be a breakthrough in the way we protect bees from other problems, too.