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White-Nose Syndrome Confirmed in Illinois Bats
Illinois becomes 20th state in U.S. to confirm deadly
disease in bats

Springfield, IL - The Illinois Department of Natural
Resources (IDNR) today confirmed the presence of
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease fatal to several
bat species, in four Illinois counties.

The University of Illinois- Illinois Natural History
Survey (INHS), the United States Forest Service
(USFS)-Shawnee National Forest, the University of
Illinois' Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (UIVDL),
and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center-Madison,
WI (NWHC) assisted in the discovery of WNS which was
detected in LaSalle County in north-central Illinois,
Monroe County in southwestern Illinois, and Hardin
and Pope Counties in extreme southern Illinois.

Little brown bats and northern long-eared bats from
these counties were submitted to the UIVDL and NWHC
in early-to-mid February 2013.  Both of these
laboratories confirmed the disease, while the fungal
pathogen was isolated directly from a LaSalle County
bat and a Monroe County bat at the INHS.

With confirmation of WNS in Illinois, a total of 20
states, mostly in the eastern U.S., and five Canadian
Provinces have now been confirmed infected.
Currently seven hibernating bat species are affected
by WNS: little brown bat, big brown bat, northern
long-eared bat, tri-colored bat, eastern small-footed
bat, the endangered Indiana bat, and the endangered
gray bat. The disease continues to spread rapidly and
has the potential to infect at least half of the bat
species found in North America.

White-nose syndrome is not known to affect people,
pets, or livestock but is harmful or lethal to
hibernating bats, killing 90 percent or more of some
species of bats in caves where the fungus has lasted
for a year or longer, according to the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. WNS is known to be transmitted
primarily from bat to bat, but spores of Geomyces
destructans, the non-native, cold-loving fungus that
causes white-nose syndrome, may be inadvertently
carried between caves and abandoned mines by humans
on clothing, footwear, and caving gear.  The name of
the disease refers to the white fungal growth often
found on the noses of infected bats.

White-nose syndrome was first detected in New York
State in 2006 and has killed more than 5.7 million
cave-dwelling bats in the eastern third of North
America as it has spread south and west across the
landscape. A map of the current spread of white-nose
syndrome can be found at
http://whitenosesyndrome.org/resources/map.
-more-

176**13

Research has shown that WNS-infected bats are awaking
from hibernation as often as every three to four days
as opposed to the normal every 10-20 days. The fungus
damages the connective tissues, muscles and skin of
the bats while also disrupting their physiological
functions. The bats wake up dehydrated and hungry
during the cold winters when there are no insects to
eat.

"Although its arrival was anticipated, the documented
spread of WNS into Illinois is discouraging news,
mainly because there is no known way to prevent or
stop this disease in its tracks,” said Joe Kath,
Endangered Species Manager for the IDNR.
“Pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats
in the United States likely save the U.S.
agricultural industry several billion dollars a year,
and yet insectivorous bats are among the most
overlooked, economically important, non-domesticated
animals in North America.”

“Isolating the fungal pathogen directly from a bat is
the ‘gold standard’ for confirming this disease, and
the Bat WNS team at the University of Illinois was
able to do this in our laboratory,” said Andrew
Miller, Mycologist at INHS.

“We are saddened by the discovery of WNS in
Illinois,” said National WNS Coordinator Jeremy
Coleman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We
will continue to work with our partners to address
this devastating disease and work towards
conservation of bat species in North America.”

Because Illinois and several other Midwestern states
are home to many federally endangered bat species, as
well as some of the largest hibernating bat
populations in the country, the complete closure of
all IDNR-owned and/or managed caves within the State
of Illinois was enacted in 2010.  In addition, all
caves within the Shawnee National Forest, managed by
the USFS, have been formally closed since 2009.  Both
the IDNR and USFS will be evaluating these caves on
an annual basis and the closure orders will remain in
effect for the benefits of bat conservation until
further notice.  Unfortunately, research indicates
that the fungus that causes WNS remains in caves
where bats hibernate even when bats are not present
and the IDNR remains concerned that people may
inadvertently carry WNS out of the caves with them.

“The IDNR recognizes that continued cave closures
will require patience from the caving community and
other citizens.  However, the observed devastation to
bat populations and the evidence for human-assisted
spread justifies that we exercise an abundance of
caution in managing activities that impact caves and
bats,” Kath added. “We understand these measures will
not be a cure for WNS, but they are necessary to help
slow the spread of this affliction and to reduce the
risks to surviving bat populations in North America.”

Bats are the only major predator of night-flying
insects and play a crucial role in the environment. A
single big brown bat can eat between 3,000 and 7,000
mosquitos in a night, with large populations of bats
consuming thousands of tons of potentially harmful
forest and agricultural pests annually. The bat
conservation community is deeply concerned and
involved with fighting the spread of WNS. Researchers
in Illinois and across the U.S. are working
diligently on finding a way to mitigate this fatal
disease. Federal, state and local organizations
continue to focus on conservation, containment, and
education.

ADVISORY
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will host a press
conference call from 11:30am to 12:30pm Central
Standard Time (CST) on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
Interested parties should dial 877-531-0156 and enter
the Passcode 8025831#.

 

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