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White nose bat disease caused by fungus

November 17, 2011

MADISON, WI — According to a study that has been published in the journal Nature, the fungus Geomyces destructans is responsible for the disease known as white-nose syndrome that is wiping out bats in North America. White-nose syndrome is a skin infection that often begins around the muzzle.

Research at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other institutions, showed that 100%of healthy little brown bats exposed to G. destructans developed white-nose syndrome while hibernating in captivity.

“By identifying the causative agent of white-nose syndrome, this study provides information that is critical for developing management strategies to preserve vulnerable bat populations and the ecosystem services that they provide in the U.S. and Canada,” said David Blehert, one of the study’s authors.

Apparently the fungus can be spread by direct contact between bats, but airborne transmission was not observed.

“Virtually all pathogens, especially spore-producing fungi, are spread by multiple routes,” Blehert said. “This is why in an effort to further control the spread of white-nose syndrome, resource management agencies have implemented universal precautions, including limiting human access to sensitive environments occupied by bats, decontaminating equipment and clothing moved between these environments, and restricting the movement of equipment between sites.”

White-nose syndrome first appeared in New York State in 2006, and has since spread southward and westward. It has now been found in 16 states and four Canadian provinces.