Nav: Home

Vaccination may help protect bats from deadly disease

May 01, 2019

A new study shows that vaccination may reduce the impact of white-nose syndrome in bats, marking a milestone in the international fight against one of the most destructive wildlife diseases in modern times.

"This is a significant step forward in developing control mechanisms to combat the devastating spread of white-nose syndrome in our important bat populations," said USGS Director Jim Reilly. "Being able to deliver an oral vaccine during hibernation could be a game changer in our ability to combat one of the deadliest wildlife diseases in modern times."

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd, and has killed millions of North American bats since 2006. The disease is spreading rapidly and there is no cure. Recent studies by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources demonstrated that bats immunized against Pd were less likely to develop WNS or die from the disease in two initial scientific trials. Results were published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

"Insect-eating bats are incredibly valuable, saving the U.S. agricultural industry billions of dollars in pest control services every year," said USGS scientist Tonie Rocke, who led the team involved in vaccine development. "Our initial studies suggest that an effective vaccine could be a critical step towards conserving North America's bat populations."

During the trials, scientists administered several vaccine formulas to little brown bats prior to Pd exposure and hibernation. They found that bats vaccinated orally or by injection survived at a higher rate than unimmunized bats. The bats also developed specific anti-fungal immune responses. Although work is still progressing to select the best vaccine candidates, the findings suggest that vaccination could potentially protect bats or reduce the effects of white-nose syndrome by providing them with immunity against Pd.

"This work shows the importance of multi-disciplinary teamwork when dealing with devastating diseases such as white-nose syndrome," said professor Jorge Osorio from the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison, who has extensive experience in developing molecular vaccines. Other team members from UW include Dr. Bruce Klein, professor and world expert on human fungal diseases, and his staff.

In natural environments, vaccines could be applied to bats in a jelly-like substance that they would ingest as they groom themselves and each other. Bats would also transfer the vaccine-laden jelly to untreated bats. 

"These results represent an exciting step forward, not only for managing white-nose syndrome but for treating disease in wildlife," said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Vaccine development is among multiple options the Service is funding to treat white-nose syndrome, but it is one that holds great promise for heavily affected bat species."  

White-nose syndrome is named for the fuzzy white appearance of Pd as it infects muzzles, ears and wings of hibernating bats. The disease is not known to affect humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.
-end-
The USGS is part of an international coordinated response to WNS, which is led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information about USGS wildlife disease research, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website. This study was supported by the USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

USGS provides science for a changing world. Visit USGS.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USGS and our other social media channels.

Subscribe to our news releases via e-mail, RSS or Twitter.

Links and contacts within this release are valid at the time of publication.

US Geological Survey

Related Bats Articles:

Coronaviruses and bats have been evolving together for millions of years
Scientists compared the different kinds of coronaviruses living in 36 bat species from the western Indian Ocean and nearby areas of Africa.
Bats depend on conspecifics when hunting above farmland
Common noctules -- one of the largest bat species native to Germany -- are searching for their fellows during their hunt for insects above farmland.
Tiny insects become 'visible' to bats when they swarm
Small insects that would normally be undetectable to bats using echolocation suddenly become detectable when they occur in large swarms.
Illumination drives bats out of caves
Researchers of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology have investigated how the illumination of bat caves affects the animals' behaviour and whether the colour of light makes a difference on their flight.
Bats may benefit from wildfire
Bats face many threats -- from habitat loss and climate change to emerging diseases, such as white-nose syndrome.
Ecology: Wildfire may benefit forest bats
Bats respond to wildfires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in varied but often positive ways, a study in Scientific Reports suggests.
Saving bats from wind turbine death
Wind energy holds great promise as a source of renewable energy, but some have wondered addressing climate change has taken precedence over conservation of biodiversity.
Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.
Vampire bats give a little help to their 'friends'
Vampire bats could be said to be sort of like people -- not because of their blood-sucking ways, but because they help their neighbors in need even if it's of no obvious benefit to them.
How bats relocate in response to tree loss
Identifying how groups of animals select where to live is important for understanding social dynamics and for management and conservation.
More Bats News and Bats Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.