Bat-killing disease jumped from East to West

Image: Infected bats
Bats show signs of white nose syndrome. (Credit: Kim Miller / USGS)

Genetic analysis has shown that the first West Coast case of white nose syndrome, a disease that’s killing millions of bats across America, was probably caused by a fungal strain that came from the eastern U.S. rather than from across the Pacific.

The findings, published today in the journal mSphere, resolve part of the mystery surrounding the case, which was reported in March in King County near North Bend, Wash. They also have implications for battling the spread of the disease.

White nose syndrome is caused by a fungus known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short. The fungus grows on the nose, wings and ears of infected bats during winter hibernation, giving them a white, fuzzy appearance. When Pd invades the skin tissue, it causes extensive internal damage, disrupting hibernation and causing mass deaths.

The disease has been detected in 25 states and five Canadian provinces, but the Washington case is the only one that’s been confirmed west of the Rockies.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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