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White-Nose Syndrome confirmed in Kentucky bat

From the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

-- The presence of White-Nose Syndrome in a bat residing in Trigg County in southwest Kentucky has been discovered.

A suspect little brown bat from a cave in Trigg County which is about 30 miles southeast of Paducah, was submitted to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Ga., which confirmed the disease.

White-Nose Syndrome was first detected in New York state in 2006. It has since killed more than one million cave-dwelling bats in eastern North America. Mortality rates of bats have reached almost 100 percent in multi-year infected caves. With confirmation of the syndrome in Kentucky, a total of 16 states, mostly in the eastern U.S., and three Canadian provinces have now been confirmed infected.

"This is likely the most significant disease threat to wildlife Kentucky has ever seen", said Dr. Jonathan Gassett, Fish and Wildlife commissioner. "It would be professionally irresponsible to take no action to stop or slow this disease. Bats are an important part of our natural environment, acting as pollinators and consuming mosquitoes and other insect pests across the landscape. We plan to aggressively manage this threat as it occurs in Kentucky in order to protect and conserve our bat populations."

Anticipating the arrival of White-Nose Syndrome in Kentucky, biologists have taken exhaustive measures to limit its spread.

The disease is known to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to caves by humans on clothing and caving gear.

Both state and federal agencies took proactive measures to limit potential human movement of the disease. These measures included increased education on decontamination procedures, surveillance, monitoring and cave closures on private, state and federal lands. All measures were included in the Kentucky WNS Response Plan developed in 2009.  

Kentucky was the first state to develop a response plan to address WNS both before and after its arrival in the state.

Almost 100 hibernacula were checked throughout Kentucky during the winter. The Trigg County cave was one of five revisited by scientists upon confirmation of WNS in Ohio. These hibernacula were rechecked because of their known proximity to infected sites in adjacent states. The privately-owned Trigg County cave is used as a hibernaculum by six species, including the endangered Indiana bat, and is a summer roost for the endangered gray bats.

Surrounding caves were checked within a 16-mile radius. No additional infected sites were found. Measures were taken to limit the spread of WNS beyond the Trigg County cave that is regularly used as a hibernaculum by more than 2,000 bats. These included removing and euthanizing 60 highly suspect little brown bats and tri-colored bats, as they were not expected to survive.  

Bats collected will be used to provide critical information to researchers. Under the direction of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Aaron Hecht, staff from SCWDS collected samples from the bats.

Spores of Geomyces destructans, the fungus associated with WNS, are known to reside in the environment. Physical barriers were strategically affixed within the cave to prevent bats from roosting in areas known to harbor infected individuals. These barriers will not alter the climate or restrict passageways used by bats. Scientists are attempting to reduce the possibility of other bats from coming in direct contact with the fungal spores and becoming infected. White-Nose Syndrome does not affect people.

Pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats in the United States likely save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year, and yet insectivorous bats are among the most overlooked economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, according to an analysis published in this week's Science magazine Policy Forum.

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