When we last covered little brown bats it was with big bad news: A study in Science suggested that white nose syndrome could kill enough of the bats to make them regionally extinct in many parts of the United States by 2020. This week, though, brought a glimmer of hope. Scientists at the New York State Department of Health led by Vishnu Chaturvedi say some anti-fungal drugs work against the mysterious fungus causing the bat die-off.
They tested six strains of the novel fungus against drugs already used to treat people and animals such as cats and dogs for ailments ranging from athlete's foot to life-threatening infections. "We found that two major classes of antifungal drugs have very good activity" against the bat germ, Chaturvedi reported Sunday in Boston at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
The drugs include fluconazole, the most widely used antifungal drug, which is sold as Diflucan by Pfizer Inc. and in generic form. Four other drugs also seem highly effective, Chaturvedi said.
White-nose syndrome continues to confound researchers, but a prevailing explanation of its deadly impact is that the infection makes the bats wake up from hibernation and expend too much energy, leaving them tapped out before spring comes. Chaturvedi thinks there's probably more to it than that, and his team wants to find a way to treat the bats in case their numbers fall to dangerously low levels. The team is also testing antiseptics that could be used to decontaminate caves in an attempt to stop the fungus's spread. Treating an entire population with pharmaceuticals would be no simple task. There could be an array of unintended consequences to boot, according to Chaturvedi and Jeremy Coleman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Drugs used a few years ago to try to help frogs being decimated by a fungal disease in many parts of the world turned out to harm tadpoles, Chaturvedi said. Trying to handle surviving bats for treatment may stress them more than the disease does. And bats' habitats have other important plant and animal life that could be harmed by spraying antiseptics, Coleman said. "You don't want to go in and bomb a cave with an antifungal because you could be impacting other species," he said. [AP]
Still, given bats' importance in ecosystems (and their helpful appetite for mosquitoes), it's good to have options on the table. Related Content: 80beats: White-Nose Syndrome Threatens Northeast Bats With Extinction
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Pocket Science – lessons from spongy genomes, and a deadly bat-killing disease
Image: Al Hicks, NY DEC