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Invasive fungus that harms bats is spreading in Washington

White-nose syndrome is harmful to hibernating bats but does not affect humans, livestock, or other wildlife.

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — An invasive fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats continues to spread in Washington.

The fungus was detected in late spring near Rimrock Lake. During spring and summer fieldwork this year, scientists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and U.S. Forest Service detected the fungus or disease in Yakima, Chelan and Mason counties.

White-nose syndrome is harmful to hibernating bats but does not affect humans, livestock, or other wildlife, according to the WDFW. Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, attacks the bat’s skin making it difficult for the animal to fly.

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The WDFW said the disease also causes infected bats to often leave hibernation early, which makes the animal more vulnerable to predators, weather and food scarcity.

“These recent confirmations of white-nose syndrome and the causative fungus in new areas of Washington are very concerning, as they provide evidence that the disease is spreading,” said Abby Tobin, white-nose syndrome coordinator for WDFW. “This eventually may lead to population declines in several bat species that are vulnerable to white-nose syndrome.”

Scientists collected samples in late spring 2021 from a bat colony “showing no obvious signs of disease” near Rimrock Lake in Yakima County. Testing confirmed the presence of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome was first detected in a brown bat in King County in March 2016. It was the first confirmed case of the disease in the western United States. Since then, the WDFW has confirmed over 100 cases of the disease.

The WDFW said it confirmed white-nose syndrome in King, Chelan, Kittitas and Pierce counties. The department said it also has detected the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in Lewis, Mason, Snohomish and Yakima counties.

Humans can carry the fungus on their clothes, so state officials ask you to give bats their space to prevent transmission. It’s also good general advice because bat-human rabies transmission can be a concern. So if you’ve handled a bat for some reason, the state says to call your health department immediately, and if you see one flying around during the day, or in cold weather, report it here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.