State Health Department Research Team Identifies Promising Antifungal Drugs to Protect Threatened Bat Population

Study Involved Testing of More Than 2,000 Compounds to Find Effective Tools to Control White Nose Syndrome in Bats

ALBANY, N.Y (September 27, 2010) – Researchers at the New York State Department of Health's (DOH) Wadsworth Center laboratory have found a series of existing antifungal compounds that could potentially be used to protect bats from a disease known as White Nose Syndrome, which has caused the death of tens of thousands of bats in upstate New York and Northeastern states.

"The research team conducting this study has done an outstanding job of identifying safe chemical compounds that may prove to be effective tools against a deadly wildlife disease," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "Their work could also help protect human health, since bats play an important role in controlling mosquito populations, which can transmit harmful diseases such as West Nile virus."

Since 2006, unprecedented mass mortalities have been recorded in North American hibernating bat populations. More than a million animals died, and the scale of the problem continuous to increase. Bats play an important role in environmental and human health by controlling insect populations which can damage crops or carry West Nile virus and other potentially fatal diseases. A single bat can consume more than 3,000 mosquitoes on a single summer night.

"Our extensive studies have found a good source of compounds that may have potential use in protecting bats and preventing the transmission of a deadly wildlife disease," said Vishnu Chaturvedi, a member of the research team. "White nose syndrome has already had a devastating impact and has the potential to wipe out an entire population of bats. Our work is designed to develop effective control measures to treat affected bats, decontaminate areas infected with the fungus, and maintain a healthy environment."

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 Geomyces (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 DOH 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 certain drugs that are widely used to treat common human infections such as athlete's foot were highly effective in controlling G. destructans growth under laboratory conditions.

The laboratory investigation also found that some common ingredients of household disinfectants have the ability to cause complete inhibition of fungal growth. This finding could identify some 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.

The study team members are Sudha Chaturvedi, Vishnu P. Chaturvedi, Sunanda Singh Rajkumar, Xiaojiang Li of DOH's Wadsworth Center, and George Hurteau and Michel Shutsman of the Ordway Research Institute. Robert Rudd and April Davis of the Wadsworth Center also assisted in this project.