The deadly bat disease — White-Nose Syndrome — has killed six million bats in North America since 2006. For the first time, it has been detected in a Northwest bat in Washington. The detection poses a highly-devastating threat to millions of flying mammals in the Washington and nearby states.
What is White-Nose Syndrome?
Pseudogymnoascus destructans is a skin-invading fungus that causes white colorations on a bat's wings, ears and muzzle.
The White-Nose Syndrome, which is sometimes called WNS for short, causes the hibernating bats to wake up prematurely. This makes the bats fly around and consume their fat storage. Eventually, the bats either starve or freeze to their deaths.
Can Humans Be Infected?
White-Nose Syndrome is transmitted from bat to bat, but are humans also at risk? According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), there is no sign that humans can be infected by the deadly fungus threatening bat populations. To date, the same can be said of other animal species.
However, WDFW cautioned that humans can potentially spread the fungus to new areas. The fungus can attach to gear and clothing used in exploring caves, roosts and mines.
"This disease just made a jump of more than 1,000 miles, so it's pretty reasonable to think this could be a human-caused transmission," said Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Mollie Matteson.
The resilient fungal spores can survive for long periods of time. The agency warned people who visit areas with bats to decontaminate their gear and clothing right after explorations.
What Can Be Done?
The infected Northwest bat in Washington was found by hikers nearly 30 miles east of Seattle on March 11. If one comes across bats with distinct WNS characteristics, authorities strong recommended contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service immediately.
Bats that are flying outside in the freezing temperature are most likely infected. Authorities strongly advise against handling live bats. The WDFW has an online reporting form that one can use to report a dead or sick bat.
As humans can potentially carry the fungus from one place to another, hikers should avoid visiting caves, roosts, mines and other areas where bats live for unnecessary activities or reasons. Dogs could also carry the fungus to new locations.
The White-Nose Syndrome is spreading fast and all precautions must be set in place. People who do visit bat areas must decontaminate their gear and clothing to avoid spreading the fungus to new areas.
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters | Flickr