Study suggests roadmap to tackle disease wiping out hibernating bats

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 04, 2011 11:30 hrs

Conservationists have sketched out a roadmap to tackle a disease that is threatening to wipe out hibernating bats all over North America.

The White-Nose Syndrome, which has killed over a million bats already, targets hibernating bats and is caused by a newly discovered cold-adapted fungus, Geomyces destructans.

Bat species such as Indiana and gray bats (Myotis sodalis and M. grisescens), little brown bat (M. lucifugus) and the cave bat (M. velifer) are endangered.

What adds to the problem are the low temperatures and humidity inside caves that create ideal breeding grounds for this fungus.

"Fungal infection might be leading to more frequent arousals from hibernation, causing infected bats to use up their fat reserves earlier, with potentially fatal consequences," said Janet Foley from the University of California, Davis.

"We believe that a roadmap including bat monitoring and disease surveillance, coupled with active research into finding ways to treat individual bats will be vital to combating this disease," Foley said.

Foley said that culling the bats would be both premature and ill advised and efforts should be made, instead, to conserve the genetic diversity of bat populations.

Her team outlines an outbreak investigation framework that includes establishment of diagnostic standards, case definitions, and gathering of information on potential treatments for similar diseases.

They suggest monitoring the bats' health and improving public education and awareness of the disease. The team also called for further studies of the chemical or biological agents that can kill the fungus, but have yet to be proven safe for bats.

"A national response is required and our epidemiological roadmap is designed to help inform state and national efforts to combat WNS across North America," Foley said.

The study appears in Conservation Biology. (ANI)

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