ALBANY - Researchers at the state Department of Health's Wadsworth laboratory have found a series of existing antifungal compounds that could potentially be used to protect bats from White Nose Syndrome which has caused the death of tens of thousands of bats in northeastern U.S.
State Health Commissioner Richard Daines said last week a Wadsworth research team has identified a safe chemical compound that is likely effective against the deadly disease, and that their work may play an important role in protecting human health, since bats control mosquito populations which can transmit diseases like West Nile virus.
"The research team conducting this study has done an outstanding job," Daines said.
Since 2006, unprecedented mass mortalities have been recorded in hibernating bat populations in North America. Scientists have estimated that more than a million bats have died, and the death count has been accelerating.
This has been troubling particularly since bats are considered very effective at controlling mosquitoes that can carry deadly diseases - a single bat can consume more than 3,000 mosquitoes on a single summer night.
The research work includes not only a way to treat affected bats, but to decontaminate areas infected with the fungus, and maintain a healthy environment, scientists have said.
White Nose Syndrome is a cottony, fungal growth that has been found around the snout and wings of diseased or dying bats. The fungus, known as G. destructans, generally affects hibernating bats and depletes their fat reserves months before normal springtime emergence, causing the bats to starve to death. The fungus also can affect a bat's wings and impair the bat's blood pressure and water balance.
The team of researchers screened the G. destructans fungus to determine its sensitivity to antifungal drugs used to treat human and animal infections. More than two thousand compounds were tested.
The study, which employed robotic devices for testing in some cases, found that preparations widely used to treat athlete's foot were highly effective in destroying the fungus.
Also, some common ingredients of household disinfectants are able to inhibit fungal growth. This finding has identified antiseptic compounds that can be used to disinfect caves and prevent the inadvertent spread of the fungus when humans or their equipment come in contact with the fungus, according to a statement released by the state Health Department.