White-Nose Syndrome

Close-up of white-nose infected bat
Close-up of a bat infected with white-nose syndrome

What is White-Nose Syndrome?

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease killing bats in North America. Researchers call the disease “white-nose syndrome” (WNS) because of the visible white fungal growth on infected bats’ muzzles and wings. This fungus, also known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans, can infect bats during hibernation when the bats are more susceptible to diseases due to lower metabolic rates and body temperatures. The infection causes bats to wake up during hibernation more frequently, which results in using up fat reserves and then starvation.
 

Where does WNS come from?

Research indicates the fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, is likely exotic, introduced from Europe. WNS started in New York in 2006 has spread to more than half of the United States and five Canadian provinces by August 2016, leaving millions of dead bats in its path. WNS causes high death rates and fast population declines in the species affected by it, and scientists predict some regional extinction of bat species. These include the once numerous little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and federally listed Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and northern long-eared bat (Myotis spetentronalis).

 

How does WNS spread?

The fungus that causes WNS is transmitted a few different ways.

  • Bats can catch the fungus from physical contact with infected bats. Also, bats can pick up the fungus from the surfaces of the cave or mine where they’re hibernating.
  • Humans can spread the fungus from one hibernaculum to another by accidentally carrying the fungus on shoes, clothing, or gear.

So it's very important to not bring clothing or gear into a WNS-free site that was previously used in a WNS-affected site.*

*Please note that Oregon Caves does not permit any gear, clothes, or shoes that have been worn or carried in any other cave, mine, or underground space (either infected or WNS-free) in the United States, Canada, Europe, or Asia to enter our cave system.

 

How does WNS affect humans?

Current evidence indicates that WNS is not transmissible from bats to humans. Studies have shown that the fungus grows only at cold temperatures (41-68 degrees F) that are much lower than that of the human body. Also, no human infections have ever been documented after exposure to WNS-infected bats or caves.

Although WNS does not cause illness in humans, a small percentage of bats can be infected with other dangerous diseases, such as rabies. Bats infected with either WNS or rabies may exhibit unusual behavior (e.g. erratic flying), which increases the risk for bat-human contact and exposure. Additionally, declines in bat populations can impact human health indirectly since humans depend on bats for important ecosystem services such as controlling pest insects and pollinating plants like bananas, cacao, and agave.
 

Learn more:

  • View the latest news and maps posted by the US Fish & Wildlife.
  • View the latest news provided USGS Wildlife Health Center.
  • Download the White-Nose Syndrome handout (609 KB pdf file)

Last updated: June 29, 2018

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