WNS Confirmed in Alabama

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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby Pippin » Mar 14, 2012 6:29 pm

The way I always understood it, "suspect" meant that they found a bit of fungus on a bat, but the bat wasn't noticeably sick or covered in fungus and the fungus hadn't started degrading the skin/wings. I seem to remember that Oklahoma bat just hat a bit of fungus on its wing but otherwise had no signs of being sick or having any wing damage (I can't remember for sure, though). "Suspect" also means nobody was able to collect a very suspicious looking bat for lab tests, as was the case in Camp's Gulf. The bats in Russell had quite a lot of fungus on them (photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/se ... 976865221/).

I got a copy of the lab report. Here are the parts of interest:

CASE HISTORY: A hibernaculum in Russell Cave National Monument was being surveyed by William Stone
(Alabama A&M University), Larry Johnson (National Park Service) and Steve Thomas (National Park Service) on
March 1, 2012. Approximately 700 bats were present and an estimated 70 were affected by white material
consistent with fungus, on muzzle, ears, wings, tail and/or feet. The affected bats were all tricolored bats (P.
subflavus) except for one northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) which appeared to have a light growth of
fungus. Two tri-colored bats and a punch biopsy (Case WNS12-58) from the northern long-eared bat were
submitted.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: White-nose syndrome (WNS), confirmed

HISTOPATHOLOGY (W12-71 and W12-72): Positive for WNS. The patagia of both bats had light growth of thin,
fungal hyphae with parallel walls and curved conidia characteristic of Geomyces destructans. The fungus invaded
the stratum corneum but did not form larger, discoid colonies as described in many advanced cases of disease.
The muzzle of bat A (slide W12-71) was infected by G. destructans with invasion of hair follicles and
sebaceous glands. Sections of muzzle from bat B (slide W12-72) were not infected with the fungus but the
distribution can be patchy and sampling error is possible.

PCR: Pending.

CULTURE: Pending.

COMMENTS: White-nose syndrome was confirmed by histopathology. This is necessary to demonstrate active
infection of the skin as opposed to contamination of the skin surface by spores or other fungal elements. Fungal
morphology and patterns of skin invasion were diagnostic for white-nose syndrome.
A positive PCR assay or culture results indicate the presence of the fungus but cannot confirm the disease
as would be indicated by invasion of the skin.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby wyandottecaver » Mar 14, 2012 7:22 pm

the "suspect" oklahoma case is somewhat infamous. I'm not sure if the current definitions had been resolved at that point. The source material was apparently discarded/lost and so no further examination can be conducted. No further cases were ever reported and thus whether that bat had WNS, G.D., or anything at all is somewhat open to question.

It should be noted that given the extremely mild winter (at least in the midwest) mortality and hibernation of bats will likely be atypical this year. It is likely in my opinion, that spread will be even higher by next year due to bats being more active longer, and more infected individuals surviving the winter to spread WNS yet further.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby Batgirl » Mar 14, 2012 8:02 pm

According to the definitions, to identify a bat as suspect for WNS, one of the following must be true:

Field signs are suggestive of WNS AND
A bat is PCR positive meaning that DNA from G. destructans is present although the viability of the organism is unknown. Field signs are not required. No histopathology was performed or is negative. WNS was previously confirmed in the county or in an adjacent county. Further diagnostics (PCR, culture, fungal tape and histopathology) were either not performed or are negative.
A bat is culture positive meaning there is viable G. destructans present. Field signs are not required. No histopathology was performed or is negative.
Fungal tape strip of bat fur or skin is positive for G. destructans-like conidia. Visible fungus is required. No histopathology was performed or is negative.


So my question is this: If a bat was tested but the presence of G.d. was not confirmed, are those caves continually tested every year to determine whether other bats have also been infected since that time? If not, why not? If so, and no additional bats are found to be infected, how is it that these caves/counties are still showing suspect? Should there be a time limit on low long the term "suspect" should or can be used?

It seems disingenuous to show a county as suspect when no signs of WNS have been discovered since it was first suspected.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby PYoungbaer » Mar 14, 2012 8:59 pm

As Pippin has already posted, the WNS was confirmed. The pending PCR and culture will confirm the fungus itself.

Wyandotte, I believe the Oklahoma bat did test positive for G.d.

The question about how long a "suspect" site/county should remain so on the map has been asked be several folks over the years, and has been posed on more than one occasion to the mapmaker. He has repeatedly stressed that the map is "ours," meaning all those who submit data and use it. I think the sense has been that it leaves a history of some sort. It's not too difficult to discern what year the "suspect" label was given. With limited resources, lots of these sites are not surveyed every year. Thus, we can't say if it gets confirmed or declared clean without additional information. It's a good question.

(edited to correct typo)
Last edited by PYoungbaer on Mar 15, 2012 9:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby cavercrane97 » Mar 14, 2012 11:24 pm

:sad: This is absolutely terrible!! I thought that the WNS was at least 200-300 miles away from my caving territory, but here it is, sitting right on my doorstep. I have heard, though, that the cave in which it was found has not been visited by "cavers" in close to a decade. I hope this is enough evidence to show the USFWS that cavers do not spread the WNS. Maybe this one discovery will help our case.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby PYoungbaer » Mar 15, 2012 10:21 am

Cavercrane97,

I bid you an unfortunate welcome to the world of WNS, something we've been living with in the Northeast for over six years. Where it first seemed irrelevant and distant, the reality has indeed arrived. As the NSS' WNS Liaison, I can tell you that I would expect a grieving process with all it's phases - anger, denial, resignation, etc. I have seen that occur in other regions as WNS seemed some local and distant problem that wouldn't affect "my caves" or "my region." Just look back at some of the posts on Cave Chat years ago.

That said, we've learned a lot over the years, and Alabama cavers may be in a better place for a number of reasons. First, the Alabama WNS Plan had input and cooperation from the Huntsville, Birmingham, and Cullman grottos, as well as from SCCi. That relationship should be a good foundation for continuing collaboration. I would urge cavers to read the plan and be involved, if you aren't already. I posted the link earlier in this thread.

Second, the NSS and its members can be leaders locally with the public and the media. We have specifically posted items on the NSS' WNS website for you to download and use to help educate these various publics on the NSS, caving, and our role with WNS. There is a WNS brochure that is kept up to date constantly. Please download and print copies of it, and use it. Inform non-NSS cavers, speak to youth, church, scout, and other groups who might be caving. There is a short white paper on the NSS and its role vis a vis WNS - how we've been involved, including supporting WNS research.

There is specific information on cleaning and disinfecting of cave gear,including NSS Safety and Techniques You Tube videos. Please use and share it. And there is a host of other information that is there as a resource so you can be informed and share that information as a knowledgeable and experienced caver.

We've been handed a lemon, but there is an opportunity to make some lemonade.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby Batgirl » Mar 15, 2012 11:39 am

wyandottecaver wrote:It should be noted that given the extremely mild winter (at least in the midwest) mortality and hibernation of bats will likely be atypical this year. It is likely in my opinion, that spread will be even higher by next year due to bats being more active longer, and more infected individuals surviving the winter to spread WNS yet further.


This winter has been unseasonably warm here in the south. The bugs have been out pretty much all year round here. While I doubt we will see the mortality here that occurred in the NE, your probably right about the the longer activity leading to increased spread, but I really hope your wrong. Aside from the large population of grey bats in Alabama, Tri-colored are probably the second most abundant here, so I am really hoping that since they hibernate alone, the disease won't spread as quickly.

I also wonder what the arrival of this disease will do for reopening caves in TAG. The SCCI was slated to reopen their caves in May, including Fern, but I am betting that won't happen now. It's a sad, sad day. :sad:
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby PYoungbaer » Mar 15, 2012 1:21 pm

Batgirl,

Unfortunately, the Tri-colored bats seem to be pretty susceptible to WNS, despite their non-colonial roosting habits. The fact that they are ubiquitous in southern caves is probably a bad sign. As with the common Little Brown, little baseline data was collected on their population status, with research and federal protection dollars focused on endangered species. That will make the impact of WNS difficult to track.

I agree with you that the fact that insects are readily available is likely to make a difference in survival for bats that contract WNS, and that mortality rates will be less. However, that's speculation. In West Virginia, they thought that too, but after two intense years of WNS, the 90% decline rates in some populations mirror those of farther North. It will take a couple years' experience to define a different trend, if there is one.

Here's a different version of the WNS map, with the affected counties superimposed on a BCI hibernation range map. It's depressing to see that there is a lot of territory to be filled in by WNS - and there are confirmed cases spread throughout:
Image click image to enlarge

The good news is that there is some species differentiation. The Virginia Big-ears are not only unaffected, but have recorded the largest populations ever. The Indiana bats, while affected by WNS, have decline rates closer to 50% - still significant, but far less than the 90+we see with others. To date, we have only one or two Gray bats that have in past years tested positive for the fungus, but not for WNS.

Why are there these differences? We don't know yet. There is some research being conducted looking at the fungal colonies in the hibernacula and on the bats themselves. The NSS has funded two of these projects. It could be that a competing fungus, or something secreted by the bats successfully combats the disease. That would be classified as "resistance" as opposed to "resilience," which is what we are seeing in remaining populations of Little Browns, for example, in NY and New England.

Without additional research, those questions will not be answered.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby BrianC » Mar 15, 2012 2:28 pm

wyandottecaver wrote:

It should be noted that given the extremely mild winter (at least in the midwest) mortality and hibernation of bats will likely be atypical this year. It is likely in my opinion, that spread will be even higher by next year due to bats being more active longer, and more infected individuals surviving the winter to spread WNS yet further.


That and the possibility of a hitchhiker bat tagging along with the surveyors. I know this sounds like an overreach, but no more than some of the leaps that we traditionally hear. The sense that this particular cave sees no real cavers, and the fact that so many exceptional caves within just a few thousand feet of this cave, with cavers from all over the world, have seen no WNS, is Very interesting indeed.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby wyandottecaver » Mar 15, 2012 7:04 pm

The single best predictor still seems to be body size. The bigger the better. Tri-colors (or pips to us old schoolers) are among our smaller bats. Grays, among our larger bats should fare better in comparison. The fact that southern feeding seasons are longer will help some...how much who knows.

While the USFWS and those taking their money will continue to milk the situation to increase their authority and grants, I think many private groups are seeing the futility of cave closures.

just to illustrate an example: a certain Indiana cave has been closed to cavers for several years. A local caver ignored that ban and entered, ultimately dying there. Other local cavers, with permission, looking for him entered. Finally, months later, another group from across the state (without permission) entered the cave recreationally and accidently found the body. Others, from across the state and beyond, then entered to retrieve the body and I and others noted what *appeared* to be WNS. Whether closures didn't work there because bats brought what is probably WNS, or because cavers ignored the closures is moot. Closures don't work EITHER way.

Of course, with the USFWS setting down the road to name many widespread bat species as T&E, the political realities for Conservanccies and others, if not the biological ones may change.
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby BrianC » Mar 15, 2012 8:37 pm

wyandottecaver wrote:The single best predictor still seems to be body size. The bigger the better. Tri-colors (or pips to us old schoolers) are among our smaller bats. Grays, among our larger bats should fare better in comparison. The fact that southern feeding seasons are longer will help some...how much who knows.

While the USFWS and those taking their money will continue to milk the situation to increase their authority and grants, I think many private groups are seeing the futility of cave closures.

just to illustrate an example: a certain Indiana cave has been closed to cavers for several years. A local caver ignored that ban and entered, ultimately dying there. Other local cavers, with permission, looking for him entered. Finally, months later, another group from across the state (without permission) entered the cave recreationally and accidently found the body. Others, from across the state and beyond, then entered to retrieve the body and I and others noted what *appeared* to be WNS. Whether closures didn't work there because bats brought what is probably WNS, or because cavers ignored the closures is moot. Closures don't work EITHER way.

Of course, with the USFWS setting down the road to name many widespread bat species as T&E, the political realities for Conservanccies and others, if not the biological ones may change.


The one issue I'm most worried about concerning the future of caving is the ESA!
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Re: WNS Confirmed in Alabama

Postby Mudduck » Mar 17, 2012 7:05 am

PYoungbaer wrote:.

That said, we've learned a lot over the years, and Alabama cavers may be in a better place for a number of reasons. First, the Alabama WNS Plan had input and cooperation from the Huntsville, Birmingham, and Cullman grottos, as well as from SCCi. That relationship should be a good foundation for continuing collaboration. I would urge cavers to read the plan and be involved, if you aren't already. I posted the link earlier in this thread.



I leave for a month and come back t find this Jeez. Anyway in working for the governent the one thing I've learned is how quickly policy can change. Things are always written in sand, never stone. I've always applauded both Georgia and Alabamas approach to WNS however I feel certain the rules are about to be re-written. I do hope I'm wrong.
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