Scientists have confirmed White-nose syndrome, fatal to several bat species, in La Salle and three other Illinois counties, according to a press release from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
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 in caves where the fungus has lasted for a year or longer, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Although its arrival was anticipated, the documented spread of White-Nose Syndrome 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 DNR.
The disease is known to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat. However, scientists also suspect spores of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome may be spread via the clothing, footwear and caving gear of humans traveling to caves and abandoned mines.
Little brown bats and northern long-eared bats from the four Illinois counties were submitted in early-to-mid February to the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, Madison, Wis. These laboratories confirmed the disease. The fungal pathogen was isolated directly from a LaSalle County bat and a Monroe County bat at University of Illinois-Illinois Natural History Survey.
The proof of the disease in Illinois there are now 20 states and five Canadian Provinces now confirmed infected. The disease affects seven hibernating bat species: little brown, big brown, northern long-eared, tri-colored, eastern small-footed, and two endangered species, the Indiana and the 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, according to the DNR.
Research has shown that infected bats awake from hibernation as often as every three to four days as opposed to the normal 10-20 days. The fungus damages the connective tissue, muscle and skin of bats and disrupts their physiological functions.
“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,” said Andrew Miller, a mycologist at Illinois Natural History Survey.
A single big brown bat can eat between 3,000 and 7,000 mosquitoes per night.
Caves at public DNR-owned/managed sites were closed to the public in 2010, and caves in Shawnee National Forest were closed in 2009 by the federal government to prevent the public from spreading the fungus.
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.
See link to map below.