September 13, 2010

Researchers Discover Possible Cure For Fungal Bat Disease

Researchers at the New York State Department of Health have identified a handful of drugs and antiseptics that could help bats fight off the fungal disease which killed more than a million of them throughout the United States, according to a weekend report from the Associated Press (AP).

The disease, which has infected bats from New York to Tennessee to Oklahoma, is known as white-nose syndrome, AP Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione reported on Sunday.

According to Jeremy Coleman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it has "completely decimated" the population of the little brown bat. "We're down to 3 percent of the original population," in some locations, he told the AP.

"The fungus grows on the nose, wings and ears, and one theory is that it irritates these membranes, causing bats to wake often during hibernation and burn so much energy that they starve to death before spring," Marchione said. "But there are signs the fungus is directly damaging wings, which are important for maintaining water balance and blood pressure control."

Scientists are not certain how the disease is spreading, but now thanks to the work of Vishnu Chaturvedi and his colleagues, they may have the tools to put an end to the epidemic. The New York state lab workers tested six strains of the disease against various anti-fungal treatments used to combat infections in humans, canines, and felines.

They discovered several drugs which can help combat the germs, including fluconazole, which Marchione says is "the most widely used antifungal drug," as well as five antiseptics that "greatly inhibit" the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. Chaturvedi reported his findings Sunday during a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston.

"Now comes the difficult part: how to use these tools in a safe and practical way," said Marchione. "No one has ever tried anything quite like this before to treat a large wildlife die-off or to decontaminate areas where the animals live"¦ Trying to handle surviving bats for treatment may stress them more than the disease does. And bats' habitats have other important plant and animal life that could be harmed by spraying antiseptics."

"More research needs to be done to test treatment and decontamination, such as cleaning people's footwear before and after they enter caves," she continued, adding that Coleman told her that the antiseptics and other fungal-control methods could be tested first in abandoned mines.


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