Researchers confirmed the first case of white-nose syndrome in a bat found on a mountain trail east of Seattle. Though the devastating disease has been confirmed in more than 24 states, it is the first time it has reached the western parts of the Rocky Mountains.
Reportedly the bat was found on a trail a few miles from Seattle in mid-March. The hiker that found it said it looked ill and took it to an animal hospital. A couple of days later, the animal was dead. Earlier this week, federal authorities confirmed that it was infected with the white-nose fungus, which triggers a deadly syndrome.
The fungus kills every bat it touches, has no cure and wiped out millions of bats on the East Coast. It is called the white nose because it leaves a white mark on the animals’ noses.
The syndrome spreads from bat to bat like wildfire, and authorities are powerless in containing it. Humans can also spread the fungus while bats can get the disease from contaminated caves as well. The syndrome has a mortality rate of 100%. So far it has killed nearly 7 million bats from seven separate species.
Researchers are worried that some bat species may now go extinct. The tiny mammals are especially useful because they consume pests, pollinate crops, and help plants disperse seeds. Bats’ work saves U.S. farmers more than $3 billion every year.
Jeremy Coleman, the head of the team at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is trying to contain the disease, said that the sick brown bat found in Washington was ‘telling.’ That particular case means that the disease has already spread in Western North America too. Coleman explained that it takes years for the syndrome to kill endemic bat species, so the fungus must have been present in the West for several years.
Scientists believe that the case is not isolated. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said that the disease probably affected a larger area in the Northwest, but scientists cannot tell how large that area really is from one bat alone.
In the East, caves have been closed to tourists as authorities are in a race against time to contain the fungus. Fungus spores can be carried by humans from one site to another, bat experts said.
But in the Northwest such measures may be premature, experts think.
“We really don’t know where these bats are spending their time. We don’t know where the white nose is,”
WDFW also said.
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