A fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease of bats, has been detected on bats in South Dakota for the first time, according to the National Park Service.
The fungus was detected on one western small-footed bat and four big brown bats in Jackson County at Badlands National Park on May 10, during testing by the National Park Service Northern Great Plains Network and the University of Wyoming. It was also the first known detection of the fungus on a western small-footed bat.
Current evidence indicates the syndrome is not a health risk for humans.
Bats are important for healthy ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the U.S. agriculture economy through pest control and pollination, studies indicate. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America — with mortality rates of up to 100 percent in some bat colonies— since it was first discovered in New York in 2006.
To date, white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in bats from 32 states and seven Canadian provinces. South Dakota joins Mississippi and Texas as states that have detected the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus, but not confirmed white-nose syndrome. The syndrome is named for the powdery, white fungus growth that often appears around infected bats’ muzzles.
The fungus was detected in South Dakota during field examination of live bats using ultraviolet light and swab samples sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Those results were repeated in follow-up tests by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.
While the results confirm the presence of the fungus, they do not confirm the syndrome, which can only be confirmed by microscopic examination of tissue samples. Tissue samples were not taken during the sampling.
The National Park Service said it will continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Wyoming, and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks to screen for the fungus and the syndrome in South Dakota.
“Because these bats were captured after they emerged from winter hibernation, we don’t know where they came from or where these individual bats encountered the fungus,” said Silka Kempema, biologist with the GF&P. “We’d like to find that out.”
The fungus affects bats while they are hibernating. Bats can disperse hundreds of miles when they leave hibernation sites in the spring.
The cooperating agencies are calling for the public's help to stop the spread of the syndrome. The best way to protect bats, the agencies said, is by staying out of caves and areas that are closed. Anyone who sees a dead or sick bat should avoid handling it and should instead notify park rangers or state biologists.
Additionally, outdoors enthusiasts can help slow the spread of the syndrome by decontaminating their caving and hiking gear and boots, and by not reusing gear that has been used in syndrome-affected areas.
Public and private partnerships are also attempting to respond with funding for disease treatments through the Bats for the Future Fund. Response actions include a growing number of options available or under development, such as enhanced decontamination procedures, bat habitat modification, bio-control of the fungus, ultraviolet light to kill the fungus and a vaccine for bats.