Tuesday, April 28, 2009

White-Nosed Bat Die Off Hits Virgina

A ProMED-mail post

ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: 25 Apr 2009
Source: Daily News Record [edited]

Samples of bats found in the Endless Caverns show cave suspected of
having the deadly white-nose syndrome (WNS) have been sent to a
federal testing facility, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland
Fisheries (VDGIF) confirmed Friday [24 Apr 2009].

If the tests come back positive, it will be the 1st confirmed case in
Rockingham County of the mysterious disease that has wiped out
hundreds of thousands of bats in the northeast. The disease showed up
in Virginia for the 1st time earlier this year [2009], but until now,
no bats in the central valley had been suspected of having the illness.

White-nose syndrome is named for the ring of white fungus that
typically appears on infected bats' snouts and sometimes on other body
parts such as wings.

Besides the fungus, infected bats typically have low body fat, are
dehydrated and demonstrate abnormal behavior, such as searching for
food during the winter.

Rick Reynolds, a wildlife biologist with the VDGIF, said Virginia Cave
Board members discovered bats showing signs of the disease during a
tour of Endless Caverns on Saturday [25 Apr 2009]. Endless Caverns is
a commercial show cave located near New Market. The caverns, along
with several similar caves in the central valley, are a popular
tourist attraction.

Reynolds visited the caverns on Tuesday [21 Apr 2009] to take samples
of the bats, which he sent to the U.S. Geological Survey's National
Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin to be tested. The results
should come back in 2 to 3 weeks, he said.

The bats in Endless Caverns "were probably in the very early stages of
showing the fungus," Reynolds said. "It was not as prominent as some
of the pictures that you see. It was just kind of spotty on the wings."

No one was available at Endless Caverns on Friday [24 Apr 2009] to
talk about the suspected case, but Reynolds said officials there have
been cooperative and are taking steps to prevent spreading the
disease. Biologists suspect that white-nose syndrome may be caused in
part by human activity in the caves and mines where bats live and

Endless Caverns officials are adding an educational component to their
tour, alerting people to the fact that bats in the cave may have
white-nose syndrome, he said.

They also are setting up a station where guests can sanitize their
footwear after touring the caverns, and they are encouraging visitors
to shower and wash their clothes before entering another cave,
Reynolds said.

"Most of those people probably go into one cave, and that's it. That
type of caver is not really going to spread it," he said. "We have not
asked [Endless Caverns' officials] to change their operations."

In addition to Endless Caverns, state biologists recently found
suspected cases of white-nose syndrome in bats in Bland and Cumberland
counties, Reynolds said.

Biologists discovered bats in a cave in Bland County this past weekend
that showed signs of the disease, and they returned to the cave on
Friday [24 Apr 2009] to take samples of the bats.

In Cumberland County, a single bat on the side of a building showed
signs of the disease, and biologists sent the animal to be tested
about a week ago, Reynolds said.

He added that it's not clear where that bat came from because
Cumberland County doesn't have caves. VDGIF is working with the
Department of Mines and Minerals to determine whether the bat came
from one of the county's mines, he said.

The 1st cases of white-nose syndrome in Virginia were confirmed
earlier this month [April 2009] in Breathing Cave in Bath County and
Clover Hollow Cave in Giles County.

At that time, VDGIF officials began asking caving enthusiasts to stay
out of caves, and it closed caves in its management areas in hopes of
slowing the spread of the disease that has scientists baffled.

Biologists say they don't know what's causing the syndrome, exactly
how it's spread, or how to stop it from infecting more bats, which, in
most cases, are naturally disease resilient.

Biologists say they are not surprised by these new suspected cases.
"It probably means what we expected all along, that it's going to grow
and develop over time," Reynolds said. "As time moves on, we're just
going to find more counties with the disease showing up unless we get
a handle on it."

The country's 1st cases of white-nose syndrome were identified about 3
years ago in bats in several caves near Albany, N.Y. Since then, the
disease has been confirmed in other parts of New York as well as the
neighboring states of Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and
Pennsylvania. It also has been confirmed in New Hampshire, New Jersey,
and just recently, West Virginia and Virginia.

The disease has wiped out 75 to 90 percent of the bat population in
New York and more than 400,000 bats in the region, records show.

Reduced bat populations could be detrimental for many reasons,
including the fact that bats eat many insects, such as cucumber
beetles and corn borer moths, which can ruin crops.

[Byline: Jenny Jones]


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