White nose syndrome doesn't sound so terrible, but in all reality it is a population crippling disease affecting Santa Barbara County bats all across the United States and Canada. This disease is caused by a fungus that affects the nose, ears, and wings of bats. It started in the northeast and is now spreading across the central United States. It is named white nose syndrome because the recently deceased bats are found with the white fungus centralized on their noses. This syndrome has been known to cause serious wing malfunction in bats that have recently left hibernation as well as an unusual tendency to fly during the day and during freezing temperatures. Bats affected by this syndrome gravitate back toward a hibernaculum as the disease progresses. It also causes bats already in hibernation to move around more, using critical fat reserves and causing the bats to starve to death. When the bats do emerge from hibernation, the white fungus is not always visible, but the wings become sticky and have an orange tint as the fungus permeates the skin and causes further damage.
The disease was first noticed in 2007 when a high mortality rate was reported in bats across the US. It is thought to spread from bat to bat as well as from humans that transport the fungus on their clothing from cave to cave as they explore where the bats hibernate. The mortality rate for this illness is now somewhere between 5.7 and 6.7 million according to US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists. So far, no humans have reported being affected by this disease, but 7 different species of California bats have been affected and counting.
Currently scientists are working on a cure, but the treatment only helps Santa Barbara County bats who have not been too badly affected so far. The treatment comes from bacteria that was originally used to slow fungal growth and is now used to slow down the ripening of fruits. Scientists say that the bacteria gives off chemicals that seem to be slowly killing the fungus before the fungus can kill the bats. One scientist first found that the bacteria helped reduce mold growth on a banana, and then thought of white nose syndrome and decided to test his theory that if it slows mold growth it would slow this fungus. He turned out to be correct. The scientists have been working for 2 years to further this cure and hope to make it 100 percent effective in the near future. There are also efforts to relocate unaffected bats in the hopes that the disease will not reach them. In the meantime, bats will continue to suffer from this deadly disease until the cure is perfected.
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