Published Date: 2008-03-31 21:00:19
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> White-nose syndrome, bats - USA (06): (Northeast)
Archive Number: 20080331.1195
WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME, BATS - USA (06): (NORTHEAST)
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 29 Mar 2008
Source: The Day [edited]
Disease Deadly To Bats Is Discovered In Connecticut
Officials: White-Nose Syndrome Not Believed to Be Threat To Humans
Brown bats perched inside a cave show the white fungus that seems to
be attacking them and causing a massive die-off. More than 90 percent
of the hibernating bats in 4 caves and mines in New York State have
died since last winter [2006-2007], and wildlife biologists fear a
die-off could occur at sites in Connecticut.
The mysterious disease that's been killing bats by the thousands in
New York and other states in the Northeast has turned up in
Connecticut, state wildlife officials announced Friday [28 Mar 2008].
White-nose syndrome, an illness characterized by the growth of a
white fungus on the nose and other areas of affected bats, has been
found in a cave in northwestern Connecticut where colonies of little
brown bats and northern long-eared bats, 2 of the most common of the
8 species found in the state, hibernate.
Wildlife biologists are studying the illness and are not sure whether
the fungal growth is the cause or whether it is an opportunistic
infection taking advantage of bats weakened by a virus, bacteria or
some other cause, said Jenny Dickson, supervising wildlife biologist
for the DEP.
It is a "commonly occurring plant fungus," she said, but one not
found on healthy bats.
Since there is no evidence that it is transmittable to humans, there
currently are no direct human-health implications of white-nose
syndrome, said state DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy.
But because bats consume large volumes of mosquitoes, moths and other
flying insects, the decimation of the bat population could result in
an explosion of those insect populations, officials warned.
Randall Nelson, state public health veterinarian, said the state's
mosquito trapping and testing program will take on added importance
this summer because of the bat problem.
Mosquitoes are trapped and tested for West Nile virus and Eastern
equine encephalitis, which can be transmitted to humans.
Dickson said the decline of the bat population could also have
implications for agriculture, since bats consume large amounts of
moths and other insects that can damage crops. As a result, farmers
could be forced to use more pesticides this summer, she said.
Many of the bats that live in Connecticut in the spring and summer
hibernate in caves in New York or other nearby states, Dickson said,
so even if the disease had not been found here, Connecticut could
still have expected sharp declines in its summer bat population.
"A lot of New York bats come back to Connecticut," she said.
"The discovery of this syndrome in Connecticut reminds us just how
interconnected our environment is," McCarthy said. "Nature does not
recognize geopolitical boundaries, so we must remain aware of what's
going on in the states around us."
The syndrome was 1st documented in New York State in 2006. Since
then, 8000 to 11 000 bats have died in the caves where they spend the
winter, called hibernacula. That is more than half the winter
Connecticut has only 8 large hibernacula, one of which houses an
estimated 2500 bats, along with several smaller sites, Dickson said.
Bats can live up to 35 years and reproduce slowly, Dickson said,
meaning that it could take many years for the population to recover
to normal levels. The disease causes the bats to become emaciated and
depletes the winter fat stores they depend on through hibernation,
Bats in New York have been found flying outside their caves in the
daytime in the winter months in search of food, behavior that is not
characteristic of healthy bats.
This winter, the syndrome was found among bats in hibernacula in
southwestern Vermont and western Massachusetts. Connecticut wildlife
biologists have been checking this state's hibernacula periodically
this winter, but had not found evidence of the disease until this week.
No mass die-offs of the infected bats were reported at the
Connecticut site, which Dickson said is a hopeful sign that they
might be able to survive the next 2 to 3 weeks until the end of their
hibernation period and emerge from the cave and start rebuilding
their fat stores and recover from the disease.
The DEP plans to continue working with other states where the disease
has been found and will continue monitoring its bat population.
Swab samples of the fungus and some of the bats themselves were
collected from the Connecticut cave where the disease was found and
sent to labs studying the disease, Diskson said. The labs are at the
University of Connecticut in Storrs and in Madison, WI, at the U.S.
Geological Service's wildlife disease facility.
"There are a lot more questions than answers," she said.
The public can help by reporting any unusual bat behavior to state
wildlife officials, Dickson said. The DEP has also asked licensed
wildlife rehabilitators and those who trap nuisance wildlife to keep
an eye out for anything unusual.
The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is asking the help of cavers to
help prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, asking them to leave
the cave if they see bats with the characteristic white muzzle, not
to touch it or other bats; and to decontaminate clothing, footwear
and gear and contact the state wildlife agency.
[Byline: Judy Benson
[Finding the disease in a Connecticut cave appears to be an extension
of the disease into other areas. Also finding it a different location
causes us to realize how interconnected the bats and the locations
might be, but it does not answer the question of how the disease got
there? Was this a case of a hungry bat going out at an inappropriate
time for a snack and bringing back a communicable disease? - Mod.TG]