The fungus on a bat found in North Bend earlier this year and diagnosed with white-nose syndrome likely came from the eastern United States.
According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey released Wednesday morning, the DNA of the fungus has been sequenced and compared to samples from the eastern United States and other samples from Europe and Asia. The fungus found in Washington is a closer match to the fungus on the east coast. It was a veterinarian at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood that first noticed odd skin lesions on the bat and sent it off to be tested for white-nose syndrome.
It is still unknown, however, how the fungus got to Washington — 1,300 miles away from the closest area where the fungus has been found, in western Nebraska. Scientists have not yet been able to determine if the sudden jump to Washington was caused by bat movement or human activity, but surveillance efforts are ongoing to follow the spread of the disease and the impacts it is having on bat populations.
White-nose syndrome is not known to affect humans or any other animals.
“Although it remains unclear how (the fungus) reached Washington, this finding guides us to look to North America as the source,” Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, said in a press release. “Now that (white-nose syndrome) has been identified in the western United States, it’s critical to continue working with resource managers to help conserve imperiled bat species, which are worth billions of dollars per year to North American agriculture and forestry.”
Bats are valuable to farmers because they can eat up to half of their body weight in insects and other bugs on a nightly basis, providing free pest control for areas where they live. Bats also play a role in dispersing seeds and pollinating fruit-bearing plants.
White-nose syndrome has killed 5.7 million bats in North America alone, according to whitenosesyndrome.org.
“The severity and potential ecosystem-level effects of white-nose syndrome in North America make it one of the most serious wildlife diseases ever recorded,” Daniel Lindner, a research plant pathologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and a co-author of the study, said in a press release. “We have made a lot of progress in understanding the fungus and in monitoring its spread, but more work is needed to determine how disease impacts will vary among bat populations in eastern and western North America.”
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is working to determine if and where other bats may be affected.
WDFW asks anyone who notices dead bats or bats acting strangely to report their observations online, or call the Wildlife Health Hotline at 800-606-8768. A common odd behavior associated with white-nose is flying outside during the day or freezing weather.
Animal experts do not recommend handling any bats that appear sick or dead, as they may carry other diseases that do affect humans and other animals, such as rabies.
–By Natalie Covate