White-nose bat disease jumps the Rockies to Washington state

Dreaded fungus confirmed in one bat found by hikers east of Seattle

bats in NY with white nose syndrome

NOW COAST-TO-COAST  The bat-killing disease white-nose syndrome (infected little brown bats in New York shown) has turned up in Washington state, having now invaded North America coast to coast.

Al Hicks

A sick bat caught by hikers not far from Seattle has now been confirmed to have the first case west of the Rockies of the deadly bat disease white-nose syndrome.

First noticed in North America in the winter of 2006-2007, the disease exterminated some whole colonies of hibernating bats on the East Coast, though some species have proved less susceptible.  White-nose syndrome has now swept from coast to coast, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed March 31.

So far the USGS’s National Wildlife Health Center has only confirmed the one case, in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) that hikers found near North Bend, Wash., on March 11 and took to an animal welfare center for care. Genetic testing identified it as a little brown bat most likely from the West instead of an accidental hitchhiker that crossed the Rockies in a truck or cargo container, Jeremy Coleman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said at a press conference. 

Just how the disease reached Washington isn’t clear yet. Twenty-seven other states and five Canadian provinces have reported it, but what was previously the most western location, in Nebraska,was more than 1,000miles away. The fungus causing the disease can spread bat-to-bat or can ride along on travelers’ outdoor gear. Watch for updated decontamination procedures in early April, Coleman said.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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