Disease Killing 6 Million Bats in Eastern U.S. Detected On West Coast

brown bat
A healthy, banded little brown bat hangs out in a cave. Photographer - Paul Cryan, USGS

The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center has verified the presence of a devastating bat disease in western North America.

Scientist confirmed white-nose syndrome (WNS) in a little brown bat found near North Bend.

WNS has spread quickly among bats in other affected areas, killing more than six million beneficial insect-eating bats in North America since it was first documented nearly a decade ago.

WNS does not pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.

On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with WNS.

PAWS then submitted the bat for testing to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, which confirmed through fungal culture, molecular and pathology analyses that it had WNS.

“We are extremely concerned about the confirmation of WNS in Washington state, about 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection of the fungus that causes the disease,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement.

“Bats are a crucial part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, so it is important that we stay focused on stopping the spread of this fungus. People can help by following decontamination guidance to reduce the risk of accidentally transporting the fungus.”

WNS, first seen in North America in the winter of 2006/2007 in eastern New York, has now spread to 28 states and five Canadian provinces.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is responsible for bat management and conservation in Washington and will coordinate surveillance near where the bat was found to determine the extent of WNS in the area.

Washington has 15 species of bats that benefit humans by consuming large quantities of insects that can impact forest health and commercial crops.