A fungus similar to one decimating global populations of frogs and toads has struck salamanders in Europe and might spread to the Unites States with deadly results, experts say.

The disease affects the skin of salamanders and also newts and creates damaging lesions, and quick action is the only way to stop its spread, say researchers taking part in a study of the fungus and its affects.

"If it gets here (the U.S.), it's going to be really bad," says researcher Karen Lips, a biologist at the University of Maryland.

The concern of the fungus spreading into the U.S. is well placed, scientists say, as the world hotspot for salamander diversity is there; the southern Appalachian Mountains are home to more salamander species than any other region in the world.

The fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, arrived in Europe from East Asia, the same region that saw the rise of a similar fungus, B. dendrobatidis, which has killed off 40 percent of frog and toad species in some parts of the world.

The new fungus was first identified in 2010 after a black-and-yellow animal called the fire salamander started vanishing from forests in the Netherlands.

Scientists initially thought of B. dendrobatidis as the culprit, but soon realized they were looking at a new kind of fungus.

The researchers, writing in the journal Science, reported that in tests in laboratories B. salamandrivorans was fatal to 11 of 17 species of European and North American salamanders, with infected animals dying within just a few weeks of infections.

The fact that the new virus can be contracted and then spread by so many species makes it a "most worrisome" kind of pathogen, says evolutionary ecologist James Collins of Arizona State University, who was not part of the new study.

That's because such disease-causing agents with the ability to spread quickly and widely are the most likely to be involved in species extinctions, he says.

B. salamandrivorans probably entered Europe in amphibians intended in pets, and may have entered wild salamander populations in aquarium water dumped into local ponds or through pets set free by their well-meaning owners, researchers suggest.

Frogs and toads, although they face their own fungal threats from B. dendrobatidis, are not threatened by the new virus, says study leader An Martel, a professor of pathology at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

"Frogs and toads, they are not susceptible, because the fungus cannot invade their skin," he says.

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