WSW: Treating a Deadly Bat Disease
For nine years, White Nose Syndrome has plagued North American bats. It’s a fungal disease that in some species is up to 98 percent fatal.
But biologist Maarten Vonhof thinks a compound called chitosan might treat it.
"It has this very strong inhibitory effect on the fungus and at the same time it has important wound-healing properties," he says.
Vonhof is an associate professor of biology at Western Michigan University. He´s also affiliated with Western´s Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program. And he´s in the midst of a study on how chitosan affects the fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome. Together with other researchers, he collected bats from northern Michigan, infected some of them with WNS, treated some with chitosan and placed them in an incubator last fall.
They'll emerge from simulated hibernation this spring, after which Vonhof and his colleagues will analyze them to see whether and to what extent the chitosan treated the fungus.
"That takes some time, but at some point this summer we should have some answers," he says.
Treatment with chitosan is one of several options that might offer hope for WNS-afflicted bats. Vonhof says other scientists are studying whether probiotics, as well as gases used to treat produce might inhibit the fungus.
He spoke in detail with WMUK's Sehvilla Mann how White Nose Syndrome changes bats’ behavior, current research on the disease and options for treating it.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a webpage with information on White Nose Syndrome.