Officials with the Bureau of Land Management Oregon & Washington have outlined precautions everyday people can take to help fight the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has decimated bat populations.
Officials shared tips on how to help protect bats ahead of Memorial Day weekend. White-nose syndrome has crushed bat populations in eastern North America and was first found in Washington in March, according to a news release. The disease is estimated to have killed six million bats since 2006.
Northwest bat diagnosed with white-nose syndrome; disease has killed 6 million
The syndrome, caused by a fungus, has killed more than 6 million bats in North America since its discovery in 2006.
White-nose syndrome is primarily spread through bat-to-bat contact, officials said. Other animals, pets or humans and their gear, such as footwear and clothing, can also move spores of the disease-causing fungus to other locations.
White-nose syndrome affects hibernating bats and causes a white fungus to appear on a bat's muzzle and other areas. Bats affected by the disease behave strangely and may cluster near the entryway to caves or fly outside during the winter. The fungus ultimately eats away at an infected bat's skin.
Bats can live in rock cliffs, buildings, talus areas or caverns, mines or caves, according to officials. People should not handle bats, which have reduced energy in the spring and can carry rabies, and should avoid disturbing them or going into areas where they may live. Dogs should also stay out of areas where bats may be roosting.
Federal and state agencies also gave the following recommendations for those who may come into contact with bat homes:
Clean shoes and clothing of dirt and mud before entering and after leaving a cave or climbing area
Change into clean shoes and clothing before getting into a vehicle
Wear different footwear to each cave or climbing area if footwear is not cleaned after each visit
Wash hands and exposed skin after visiting a climbing area or cave
Wash hats, clothing, gear and shoes worn in caves in hot, soapy water that is at least at least 131 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 20 minutes
Use alcohol wipes on gear that can't be washed
People are also urged to report injured, sick and dead bats or groups of bats. You can report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife online here, or to Oregon officials by calling (866) 968-2600 or going online here.