White-nose syndrome is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The disease is estimated to have killed over six million bats in eastern North America since 2006 and can kill up to 100% of bats in a colony during hibernation.
In March 2016, Washington’s first case of white-nose syndrome was confirmed in a Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) near North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle. Though the disease has devastated bat populations in eastern North America, we do not yet know how it will impact western bats. In general, bats in Washington do not hibernate in large aggregations like bats do in eastern North America. Thus, the spread of the disease in western North America may be different.
The fungus can grow on the nose, wings, and ears of an infected bat during winter hibernation, giving it a white, fuzzy appearance. Once the bats wake from hibernation, this fuzzy white appearance goes away. Even though the fungus may not be visible, it invades deep skin tissues and causes extensive damage. Affected bats arouse more often during hibernation which causes them to use crucial fat reserves, leading to possible starvation and death. Additional causes of mortality from the disease include wing damage, inability to regulate body temperature, breathing disruptions, and dehydration.
The fungal disease is spread primarily from bat-to-bat contact. Bats can also contract the disease from an environment where the fungus is present. People can carry fungal spores on clothing, shoes, or recreation equipment that has come in contact with the fungus. Appropriate decontamination for clothes and equipment used in areas where bats may live is critical to reducing the risk of spreading this catastrophic bat disease.
White Nose Syndrome does not pose a threat to humans, pets or other animals.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a web page that is asking for the public’s help in finding bats that are sick or dead as well as discovering groups of bats.