September 23, 2011

In the Spotlight - A Bulletin on Universal Precautions for the Management of Bat White-nose Syndrome

USGS National Wildlife Health Center
Wildlife Health Bulletin
- Universal Precautions for the Management of Bat White-nose Syndrome

...Infectious diseases such as WNS spread rapidly when a pathogen can persist in the environment without the need for host organisms, abundantly reproduce itself, and readily infect large numbers of animals. Regardless of the infectious agent (fungus, bacterium, or virus), standard procedures known as universal precautions can be implemented to reduce disease transmission and spread (Thrusfield, 2005; USDA National Animal Health Emergency Management System Guidelines: Biosecurity).

These standard disease management procedures as applied to WNS include decontamination procedures, equipment restrictions, and limitation of access to contaminated environments. The primary objective for implementing universal precautions is to prevent human-assisted movements of pathogens to unaffected locations.

... A variation to the recommendation to implement management actions (decontamination procedures, equipment restrictions, and site closures) across all habitats suitable for maintaining viable WNS fungus is to develop a targeted or zoned disease management program.

However, instituting management actions only at locations known to be contaminated by the WNS fungus may increase risk for disease spread, because: 1) there is currently no diagnostic method to rapidly and routinely screen environmental samples (e.g., cave soil) to identify contaminated sites (Lindner et al, 2010); and 2) identifying contaminated sites based solely upon the observation of sick bats is unreliable. Furthermore, as the WNS fungus has been found in environmental samples collected in caves and mines where WNS occurs (Puechmaille et al, 2011; Blehert et al, 2011), universal precautions indicate that presence of fungus must now be assumed unless absence can be proven.

Decontamination procedures, equipment restrictions, and site closures are currently in place to reduce the potential for humans to transfer the WNS fungus. These guidelines are based upon scientific standards routinely employed for the management of animal diseases and represent a responsible approach to minimize risk to important natural resources.

We cannot yet rapidly screen sites for the presence of WNS fungus when visibly infected bats are absent, we cannot safely and effectively treat wild bats for WNS, we cannot decontaminate fragile cave ecosystems upon which bats rely, nor can we limit the natural movements of bats. Modifying human activity by implementing decontamination procedures, equipment restrictions, and site closures are the options currently available for managing the spread of WNS; these procedures will be reviewed as indicated by additional scientific findings.

White-Nose Syndrome Resources

Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service; Credit: Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Fish and Wildlife Service – WNS Web Page

National Wildlife Health Center – WNS Web Page
Wildlife Disease Information Node
What Other Essential WNS Resources Should Every Wildlife Professional Know About?

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