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August 6, 2010

Fungus affecting bats predicted to be in South Carolina by 2011

White-Nose Syndrome, a fungus that has decimated bats in the Northeast, may reach South Carolina by 2011, according to a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Since White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) was first reported there in 2006, colonial cave bats have drastically declined in the Northeast, according to Mary Bunch, a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in Clemson. A newly described cold-loving fungus, Geomyces destructans, has been linked to WNS. The fungus grows on the muzzle and wings and is most easily detected on afflicted bats in the winter and late spring. Many afflicted bats prematurely arouse from hibernation, and they appear dehydrated and emaciated prior to death.

White-Nose Syndrome has spread rapidly and is now as far south as Tennessee and as far west as Oklahoma. It is probable, based on the current rate of spread, that WNS will reach South Carolina by 2011, according to Bunch.

Wildlife professionals need to be prepared for bat die-offs and groups of bats displaying unusual behaviors. Typically, testing for WNS is only done in the cooler months of October through April, when the fungus is most easily detected. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources staff will submit appropriate bat samples to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia for diagnosis. While there currently is no proven cure or prevention of WNS, it is important to properly diagnose it and to monitor WNS-positive colonies. While more than 90 percent mortality has been reported in Northeastern bat populations, South Carolina's warmer, shorter winters may favor improved bat survivorship.
White-Nose Syndrome is not a direct threat to humans, Bunch said. No other mammals seem to be affected. WNS can be spread from bat to bat and from the cave environment. Equipment and clothing can also carry White-Nose Syndrome from site to site.

In late fall, winter and early spring, if dead and dying bats are found with white fuzzy material on muzzle or wings or in groups of six or more bats, contact your regional wildlife office and promptly refrigerate the fresh specimen. Bat should be double bagged in sealable plastic bags (Ziploc), labeled with date, specific location and contact information and placed on ice (not frozen). If one to three dead bats are found at any time of year outside, then dispose of carcass. No submissions are accepted on Friday through Sunday (the testing lab isn't staffed over the weekend). Never handle a dead or live bat with bare hands. Dead bats are best picked up when wearing disposable latex or nitrile gloves, then double bag the bat in plastic bag.
For more information on White-Nose Syndrome, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service White-Nose Syndrome Web site.

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