The recent discovery of a deadly fungal disease in a dead bat in western North America has provincial wildlife officials asking the public to support work already underway by providing information on unusual bat activity.
In March 2016, officials confirmed the first recorded occurrence of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in western North America, found in a dead bat just east of Seattle, Washington. Scientists in B.C. are working with neighbouring jurisdictions to respond to the issue.
To-date, the disease has not been detected in British Columbia, but experts are concerned the disease could spread to bat species in the province sooner than expected. White Nose Syndrome is not a threat to human health.
British Columbia officials are working to understand bat behaviour and use of habitat in B.C. to help design strategies to protect bats and help them recover from the effects of the disease. Experts are encouraging British Columbians to report the location of any unusual bat activity. This could include bats flying during the day, or finding dead or dying bats, as these may be indications of the disease.
British Columbians can contact the BC Community Bat Program “Got Bats?” toll free at 1 855-9BC-BATS (1 855-922-2287) to report any sightings. The public is reminded to never handle a dead or dying bat with bare hands, as bats may carry rabies.
White Nose Syndrome is a fungal disease that affects and kills many bats during their winter hibernation period. White Nose Syndrome is named for the fuzzy white fungal growth that is sometimes observed on the noses of infected bats. The fungus invades bat skin damaging their delicate wing tissue, and causing physiologic imbalances that can lead to disturbed hibernation, depleted fat reserves, dehydration and death.
White Nose Syndrome was first discovered in eastern New York in 2006, and has killed over six million bats in 28 states and five Canadian provinces since then. Some bat species are now listed as at risk or endangered in certain regions. Since bats play a crucial role in providing essential pest control for farmers, foresters and city residents, a reduction in their population could lead to significant ecological and economic impacts.
The disease is primarily spread by bat-to-bat contact, although human spread by contaminated clothing and gear cannot be ruled out. People entering caves and mines are asked to follow standard decontamination guidelines to clean the disease-causing fungus off clothing and gear.
For more information on WNS, how to protect B.C.’s bats and decontamination protocols when visiting potential bat habitats in mines and caves, consult the BC Wildlife Health website: