Investigating and managing the rapid emergence of white-nose syndrome, a novel, fatal, infectious disease of hibernating bats.

Research paper by Janet J Foley, Deana D Clifford, Kevin K Castle, Paul P Cryan, Richard S RS Ostfeld

Indexed on: 03 Feb '11Published on: 03 Feb '11Published in: Conservation Biology


White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fatal disease of bats that hibernate. The etiologic agent of WNS is the fungus Geomyces destructans, which infects the skin and wing membranes. Over 1 million bats in six species in eastern North America have died from WNS since 2006, and as a result several species of bats may become endangered or extinct. Information is lacking on the pathogenesis of G. destructans and WNS, WNS transmission and maintenance, individual and site factors that contribute to the probability of an outbreak of WNS, and spatial dynamics of WNS spread in North America. We considered how descriptive and analytical epidemiology could be used to fill these information gaps, including a four-step (modified) outbreak investigation, application of a set of criteria (Hill's) for assessing causation, compartment models of disease dynamics, and spatial modeling. We cataloged and critiqued adaptive-management options that have been either previously proposed for WNS or were helpful in addressing other emerging diseases of wild animals. These include an ongoing program of prospective surveillance of bats and hibernacula for WNS, treatment of individual bats, increasing population resistance to WNS (through vaccines, immunomodulators, or other methods), improving probability of survival from starvation and dehydration associated with WNS, modifying hibernacula environments to eliminate G. destructans, culling individuals or populations, controlling anthropogenic spread of WNS, conserving genetic diversity of bats, and educating the public about bats and bat conservation issues associated with WNS.