Colony Collapse Disorder

Have you noticed there are less bees around? They used to be everywhere you didn’t want them to be—picnics, barbeques, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc. I just haven’t seen that many lately. I thought they all moved down to Florida like many of our parents and their friends did when they retired. Perhaps they are all living in bliss in some retirement colony called El Boca del Vista hoping to still get lucky with the queen bee. Not so.

The California almond groves require an enormous amount of bees to pollinate them every year. It is the largest pollinator event in the US each year. This is where the term “bee-in” came from in the 1960s. Any bee that could fly was needed last year. There weren’t enough bees in California (retired in Florida?). Beekeepers from all over the US brought their colonies to help, to the tune of 1.6 million colonies. How do the bees know which hive to get back to when they’re done? No idea. Bees are dying faster than the queen bees can produce new ones. This is what has been termed, “Colony Collapse Disorder.” We need bees because 33% of foods eaten worldwide are directly related to the need of pollination. Indirectly, a larger amount can be linked to bees. Tim Tucker, the VP of the American Beekeeping Federation, put it this way, “Current losses are not sustainable. The trend is down, as is the quality.” Is he talking about bees or the need for quality vascular technologists, another dying breed?

As far as causes for the Colony Collapse Disorder, they are the usual suspects: pesticides, fungicides, colony mites, viruses and even cell phone usage (by us, not the bees). When they couldn’t fully connect brain cancer with cell phone use, someone decided they could blame cell phone use for the Colony Collapse Disorder. Who knows?

This month VEIN attempts to help protect the venous community from its version of the Colony Collapse Disorder. Our goal is to help grow a sustainable, quality vein expert population. One of the usual suspects that we deal with as vein experts is government regulation and legislation. The new Sunshine Act will have an impact on venous education, venous societies and physician/industry interaction. John Blebea, MD, MBA, puts this into perspective for us. Neil Khilnani’s piece about vein center accreditation should be read with an open mind. The vein experts who helped craft this came from many backgrounds, but with the common goal of sustainable, quality vein care. We as a specialty need this, just as the California almond groves need sustainable, quality bees.

It turns out that the answer to the bee problem might be “robobees.” Scientists from Harvard and Northeastern University, who apparently have a lot of free time on their hands, started in 2009 to develop miniature bee robots that could pollinate crops. These robobees are smaller than a quarter, self-powered and can “communicate” with each other. As the scientists state in Scientific American magazine, their goal is “to push advances in miniature robotics and design of compact high energy power sources, spur innovations in ultra-low power computing and electronic smart sensors, and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines.” I am really not sure what this statement means. I’ve read it multiple times. But read it out loud to some people and you will sound very smart. Almost as smart as anyone with a British accent sounds at one of our US vein meetings. It doesn’t matter what they say; they just sound really smart. Keep calm and carry on.

Steve Elias, MD, FACS, FACPh
Medical Director