Bats Treated for Deadly White-Nose Syndrome Released by US Forest Service

First Posted: May 21, 2015 08:39 AM EDT

There may be a treatment for white-nose syndrome. Scientists have now released the very first bats treated for the disease back into the wild after they were successfully cured.

"While more research is needed before we know if our current discovery is an effective and environmentally safe treatment for white-nose syndrome, we are very encouraged," said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. "We are extremely grateful for the support of Bat Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, and honored to be collaborating with Georgia State University on research that has potential to reduce mortality of bats in the face of this devastating disease."

White-nose syndrome is caused by a cold-loving fungus, which is deadly to hibernating bats. It penetrates tissues of the nose and mouth as well as the wings, weakening these tissues and impairing a bat's ability to avoid dehydration and maintain body temperature. In affected regions, 78 to 100 percent of bat populations have died and so far, it's estimated that 5 to 6 million bats have succumb to the disease overall.

Now, though, there may be a cure. Scientists have studied native soil bacteria that produce natural volatiles that inhibit the growth of the fungus. Already, researchers have treated diseased bats with compounds produced by the bacteria, and found that many of the bats were able to survive.

"While it has been discouraging to watch the spread of white-nose syndrome and the loss of bats, the collaboration that has resulted among institutions, agencies, non-profits and volunteers who are committed to bats has been immensely gratifying," said Sybill Amelon, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The new findings could be especially important for the future of bats in the United States. As white-nose syndrome spreads, finding a cure or a way to halt it is essential to save bat populations.

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