|Reports of confirmed white nose syndrome cases among bats|
|A little brown bat diagnosed with white nose syndrome|
In the northeastern United States, the population of the little brown bat has been greatly affected by a mysterious disease known as the white nose syndrome (WNS). This little known malady has been named for the whiteness seen on a bat's nose, and has claimed lives of more than 1 million bats in the Northeast. This disease was first identified in New York's Schoharie County in February 2006. It soon spread from the caves of New York to Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts in two years. In early 2009, this disease epidemic was reported in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The most recent cases have been confirmed in Tennessee, as far west as Oklahoma, and even beyond the northern borders in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. A study in 2008 showed that one possible cause for this syndrome is a fungus called Geomyces destructans found on the bats' muzzles, legs, and all exposed skin tissues. This fungus is said to thrive during cold weather, and grow on hibernating bats in turn disrupting their normal patterns in which they wake up too frequently and starve to death. The symptoms include body fat loss, unusual winter behavior, and death.
Recently, a federal plan has been proposed to bring together resources across the nation for the development of a cure against this new and deadly disease. This movement is said to cover seven important elements, which include monitoring and researching the malady along with conserving key bat habitats. However, as with any newly-discovered disease, there is no quick fix. According to Ann Fronschauer, national WNS communications leader for the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), there is still a lot to be learned and that there are also several ordinary people helping out in search for the cure.
I'm extremely pleased to see that several people living in areas where the WNS as been reported have started to step up in the search for a cure against this rampant disease. Bats play an important role in controlling the insect population in not just their natural ecosystems, but also in people's too. Without bats, the entire U.S population would be prone to mosquitoes and other deadly insects that can be lethal to humans. Based on the number of reports of this disease and the current mortality rate, the white nose syndrome is like a chiroptera-equivalent of the bubonic plague. If this malady continues to spread across the U.S, more and more bats will fall victim. Also, in my opinion, it is not known whether WNS is a transmissible disease or not. Therefore, it is good that people are also considering to investigate and study this disease as a way to finding a cure for it.
The WNS is not the only malady that has got people searching for a cure. Another is the Chagas disease, a deadly epidemic that has been devastating the human population of Central and South America since its discovery in 1909 by a Brazilian physician named Dr. Carlos Chagas. This malady is caused by a protozoan called Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted from a species of assassin bug under the genus Triatoma. Even though it has been 101 years since its discovery, there is currently no vaccine against this disease. As of now, the primary focus has been on the prevention of this disease. This includes improving housing and sanitary conditions in rural areas where people are prone to the malady. Similarly, there has not been a discovery made for a medicine against WNS lately. As of now, people are helping out by building bat boxes outside their homes and not venturing inside any caves. I just hope that there will one day be a cure for this disease. In the meantime, however, it is important to not to mess around with bats for the danger of disease transmission from humans.
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