Editorial: What is in a Name? A Proposal to Use Geomycosis Instead of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) to Describe Bat Infection Caused by Geomyces Destructans
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In 2006, a mysterious condition was first observed in hibernating bats near Albany, NY, US . The affected animals and carcasses displayed a prominent cotton-like growth around the nostrils, which came to be colloquially termed White Nose Syndrome (WNS). Subsequent studies indicated that the cottony appearance was due to fungal growth. The extensive fungal colonization of bat skin and hair, characteristic histopathological appearance, and exclusive presence of a specific fungal DNA in the animals’ tissues led to the discovery of the causal agent—a newly described species called Geomyces destructans [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Subsequent studies revealed that this condition has caused the deaths of nearly a million bats in the Northeast and it has rapidly spread to other parts of the country . Unfortunately, the prognosis for bats remains poor at present. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to impose extreme measures, such as barring human access to the caves and the mines where bats live, in an attempt to stop further spread of this disease (http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome/pdf/NWRS_WNS_Guidance_Final1.pdf). Recently, G. destructans growth was reported on bats from many European countries, but the associated morbidity or mortality seen in the US bats was absent from the European animals [8, 9]. Thus, G. destructans causes both colonization and invasive infections in Chiroptera. The underlying mechanisms causing such a wide spectrum of host–pathogen interactions still remain unknown.
Bats afflicted with WNS have many symptoms, such as, emaciation, epidermal erosion and ulcers, and extensive wing damage [4, 10]. Accordingly, this disease can be confirmed by the morphological appearance of the fungus on any part of the body, histopathology of affected tissues with demonstration of hyphae–conidia, or demonstration of G. destructans by PCR–nucleotide sequencing [3, 4, 6, 11]. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that WNS is neither an exclusive presentation nor an all-encompassing description of G. destructans infections in bats. The continued use of this terminology to describe bat disease carries the risk of undue focus on one symptom of what is likely to be a complex host–pathogen interaction.
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