FILE - This October 2008 file photo provided by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation shows a little brown bat suffering from white-nose syndrome, with the signature frosting of fungus on its nose, found in a New York cave. / Ryan von Linden/AP
Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- A disease that has killed hundreds of millions of bats in the northeastern part of North America has been confirmed in cases in South Carolina.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources confirmed the bat disease "White-Nose Syndrome" has been found in a dead bat found recently at Table Rock State Park.
SC DNR has been watching the spread of WNS, which is transmitted mainly through bats contact with each-other, since the first deaths were confirmed from the disease in 2007.
The White-Nose Syndrome has not been found to infect humans or other animals, but estimates of bat mortality from the new pathogen are said to be over 6 million bats in the last 6 years.
"We have been expecting WNS in South Carolina," said Mary Bunch, wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) based in Clemson. "We have watched the roll call of states and counties and Canadian provinces grow each year since the first bat deaths were noted in New York in 2007."
With the addition of South Carolina, WNS has now been confirmed in 21 states and five Canadian provinces.
Currently there is no cure or effective treatment for WNS, and mortality in some species, such as the small tri-colored bat, has exceeded 98 percent.
While WNS is not harmful to humans, scientists believe it is possible for humans to transport fungal spores on clothing and gear. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advised cavers and researchers to curtail caving activities and implement decontamination procedures in an effort to reduce the spread of WNS. The fungus cannot be killed simply by washing clothing.
Bats play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and have an enormous impact on pest control, benefitting the economies of both forestry and agriculture in the United States. For example, the one million little brown bats that have already died due to WNS would have eaten between 660 and 1,320 metric tons of insects in one year.