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Arkansas closes caves to prevent spread of bat disease

From the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

-- The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has agreed to close all caves on AGFC lands and Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission Natural Area WMAs to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome in bats.

The agency owns at least 83 caves on four WMAs in Arkansas. The four AGFC areas that have caves on them are McIlroy Madison County, Gene Rush, Loafer’s Glory and Harold E. Alexander WMAs.

There have been no reports of the disease in Arkansas, but last week a bat in Tennessee’s Dunbar Cave State Park tested positive for white nose syndrome. It’s the second location the disease has been found in Tennessee. The cave is located near Nashville in central Tennessee.

Biologists fear the state’s bat population could be potentially devastated by the disease. The causes and transmission of white nose syndrome are still being studied, but the AGFC is taking every precaution to protect the species.

White nose syndrome causes bats to use up their fat reserves rapidly during hibernation. This causes affected bats to fly out of caves during winter in an attempt to find food. Since the insects bats eat are seasonally dormant, the bats die of starvation. Bats play a key role in keeping insects, including agricultural pests, mosquitoes and forest pests, under control.

There have been no reported human illnesses attributed to white nose syndrome, and there is currently no evidence to suggest that it is harmful to humans or other organisms.

The disease is associated with massive bat mortality in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States. Since the winter of 2006-07, bat population declines ranging from 80 percent to 97 percent have been documented at surveyed hibernation areas that have been most severely affected. Although exact numbers are difficult to determine, biologists estimate that losses may exceed one million bats since 2007. This mortality represents the most steep decline of North American wildlife caused by infectious disease in recorded history.

Affected hibernating bats often have visually striking white fungal growth on their muzzles, ears or wing membranes as the result of infection. It is not known exactly how the fungus is spread, but the most likely routes are by bat-to-bat transmission or movement of spores from cave to cave by human visitors.

To date, WNS has not been found in Arkansas. Six species that are found in Arkansas have been affected in northeastern states and two other Arkansas bats could be impacted by WNS. All three species of endangered bats that live in Arkansas are known or are likely to be vulnerable to WNS.

The AGFC encourages owners of caves on private lands to also close their caves to public access in order to protect bats. However, if they do decide to allow people to enter their caves, cavers should follow these procedures:

Upon exiting a cave:

1. Thoroughly scrape or brush off any dirt and mud from your clothes, boots, and gear and then place them in a sealed plastic bag or plastic container with lid to be cleaned and disinfected off site.

2. Outer clothing should be removed prior to entering a vehicle after a site visit. A clean change of clothing is recommended. Surface cleaning of exposed skin (arms, face, neck, hands, etc.) with antibacterial hand sanitizer (i.e. Purell) should occur prior to entering the vehicle’s cab.

Take care to avoid contamination
       
1. For clothing – Wash all clothing and any appropriate equipment in washing machine using the hottest cycle possible for material and conventional detergents. Laboratory testing has found Woolite fabric wash to be the best surfactant for clothing. Rinse thoroughly, and then follow by soaking with sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water in a tub or plastic container. Soak for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.

2. For submersible gear (i.e. soft-sided gear.) – Disinfect any equipment that can be submersed in a solution with an appropriate and compatible disinfectant such as sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water in a tub or plastic container or _ 0.3% concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds (i.e. Lysol All-purpose Professional Cleaner or the antibacterial form of Formula 409). Keep submersed for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.

3. For non-submersible gear (i.e. hard-sided gear) – Disinfect any equipment that cannot be submersed by applying an appropriate and compatible disinfectant to the outside surface by using 0.3 percent concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds such as Lysol All-purpose Professional Cleaner, Lysol disinfecting wipes or the antibacterial form of Formula 409; or use sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Keep on surface for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.

4. For boots – Boots need to be fully scrubbed and rinsed so that all soil and organic material is removed. The entire rubber and leather boots, including soles and leather uppers, can then be disinfected with an appropriate disinfectant such as 0.3 percent concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds (i.e. Lysol All-purpose Professional Cleaner or the antibacterial form of Formula 409) or sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Keep on surface for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.

5. For ropes and harnesses – This equipment should be dedicated to one cave or not used at all. Decontamination of vertical equipment is recommended. However, the performance integrity may be compromised by using these disinfecting agents mentioned above repeatedly.

For more information on the disease, go to: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html.

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