Classic fungal white nose syndrome kills bats by the millions.

Marcia Wolfe
Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Marcia Wolfe with her dogs
Marcia Wolfe, Valley Ag Voice Contributor

I do not want to talk about this. The COVID-19 disease media blitz is driving me nuts. It is the last thing I feel like writing about. It is on the news morning, noon, and night and even in between television programs. On one hand its scaring people. On the other hand, it seems to be making people behave obliviously. So, we need to talk about it. 

I was thinking, “Okay, we are scared. Why is the media acting so scared?” It simply is due to the reality that we really do not know anything about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. It is not just us who are ignorant but also the doctors and the researchers across the world. Yes, we are learning new things every day, but we have never had it before.  We do not know how to prevent it, except with an eventual vaccine. So, it is necessary for everyone to stay vigilant and follow all the recommended guidelines to at least keep the spread at bay. It is known that it has mutated from its origin in China, and it could mutate again/more. Then what? The S and L mutations in COVID-19 were in the virus’ protein “spike,” according to Dr Stephen Griffin, of the Leeds Institute of Medical Research and chair of the virus division at the Microbiology Society.

Virologist Professor Jonathan Ball said the mutations could hinder vaccine manufacturing and that the Chinese scientists’ findings would need to be studied with a larger sample of cases as the data set used was small. Professor Ball said: “At the moment we don’t have hard evidence that the virus has changed with regards to disease severity or its ability to cause infection. Consequently, we need to continue to be cautious when interpreting these kinds of computer-based studies, interesting as they might be.”

Often, we humans forget that we are just one of many species of animals. Wildlife populations have suffered or in some cases gone extinct because of new or unknown diseases. Some of these include sarcoptic mange (which is now adversely affecting the endangered San Joaquin kit fox here in town), anthrax, West Nile encephalitis, Ebola, canine distemper, the plague, and many others. The worst-case scenario for any species is extinction. The bats in the northeastern United States almost went extinct in the past few years from what is referred to as white nose syndrome. It is a fungal disease presumed to be from Europe, where, oddly enough, it does not adversely affect bats at all. Somehow it got here, and the northern long eared bat population in New York lost 99 percent of its population through 2018. This fungus has now spread completely across the United States clear to the west coast in Washington. It is more recently documented with killing several bats in Texas.  But besides making the northern long eared bat in New York almost extinct, this disease has forever changed the composition and population dynamics of bats across the entire United States. With the loss of millions of bats, it is still spreading. Our bats are essential for mosquito and insect control. A bat may eat its entire weight in mosquitoes in a single night. They eat many insects that damage agricultural crops and spread diseases.  The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (2020) notes that bats’ consumption of insects saves farmers billions of dollars on pest control each year. You could not imagine a life without bats!

Recently, I received notice from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that ten dead jackrabbits were found unexpectedly in southern California near Palm Springs.  Laboratory testing confirmed that they died from a hemorrhagic virus (not related to COVID-19) that previously has never been reported in California. The rabbit hemorrhagic virus was first recorded in China, and it is thought to be carried from rabbits imported from Europe. However, rabbit deaths from this same virus were previously documented in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico. The virus may affect any type of rabbit, hare, or pika, including domestic species. So, if you raise rabbits, like us, keep them in isolation for their protection. Eventually, if rabbit, hare and pika deaths become extensive, it also will result in a cascading, adverse impact upon the many wildlife species who depend upon rabbits and hares for their food. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is also requesting that anyone who observes dead rabbits in the field to please report the locations to them (916-358-2790), and call your veterinarian if your own domestic rabbits die so they can track the rate and locations of the potential virus spread. For the most part, the sick rabbits do not exhibit symptoms but may have blood on their noses and mouths. As a precaution, if you find a dead rabbit in the field (or at home), do not touch or move it. If you are a rabbit hunter, you want to be sure to use gloves and protective gear while dressing them. Washing your hands is always recommended for this virus as well, as for all germs. That’s right. You heard it here first: washing your hands is top priority.

As COVID-19 continues to be researched worldwide, vaccines and treatments are being experimentally evaluated. Since its identification first in January 2020, its presence is documented on every continent in the world, except Antarctica.  Having worked in microbiology, I am sure that our medical research scientists eventually will develop successful vaccines and ultimately treatments. It just takes a lot of time. 

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