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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Bat-killing disease make the leap to the West

Image: Afflicted bat
This little brown bat with white nose syndrome was found near North Bend, Wash. (Credit: PAWS)

Researchers are dismayed by the first-ever case of the bat-killing disease known as white nose syndrome in Washington state, more than 1,000 miles west of where it’s been detected before.

The illness is linked to a fungus that’s primarily spread from bat to bat, but the fungus can also be transmitted via the shoes, clothes and gear of cave visitors.

Although it’s not harmful to humans, pets, livestock or most wildlife, the fungus is devastating for the bats. White nose syndrome has killed more than 6 million bats in North America since it was first documented nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.

White nose syndrome was first detected in New York, and until now, it was thought to have spread only as far west as Nebraska.

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