May 9, 2010 in Nation/World

Group hopes to prevent fatal bat disease’s spread

Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A mysterious disease that has ravaged bat populations in the northeastern United States is threatening to spread West, a conservation group said.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent letters last week to state wildlife officials across the country, urging them to consider closing state-owned caves to the public to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome.

More than a million hibernating bats have died since the disease was first documented in upstate New York in 2006. It has spread around the Northeast and has been detected as far south as Virginia and now as far west as Missouri.

The fungus linked to the syndrome appears to thrive in cold, moist caves and affects hibernating bats.

Six bat species are known to be affected by the fungus.

In Missouri, officials announced Thursday they were temporarily closing most caves in state parks and historic sites to help contain the disease. Caves are also being closed in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee.

No caves have been closed in the western U.S. because of the syndrome.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based group’s letter said closing state-owned caves and educating the public about white-nose syndrome could minimize the spread of a fungus associated with the disease.

Humans can transmit the fungus through contaminated boots and clothing or caving equipment, the group said.

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