COVID-19 and bat rehabilitation
Bats are one of the most beneficial animals to humans, but they may be facing yet another threat in addition to white-nose syndrome. At this time, the potential transmission from humans with the COVID-19 virus to North American bats remains unknown. Researchers are investigating the susceptibility of North American bats to the COVID-19 virus. Until more is known about the risk of human-associated transmission, it is critical we take additional precautionary actions to protect our bats.
Given the current unknowns and potential risks to North American bats, we have advised wildlife rehabilitators to avoid accepting new bats into their facilities to protect bats against the virus that causes COVID -19.
To learn more about bats and coronaviruses, visit Bat Conservation International's frequently asked questions webpage.
What to do if you find a bat
1. Do not touch the bat. Leave it in place.
2. For the bat's protection, practice physical distancing and keep 6 feet away from the bat.
3. If the bat must be moved, use a shovel or long-handled tool to pick it up and move it.
4. Report sick, injured, or dead bats online. Please also report groups of bats. These reports provide valuable information to track bat populations in Washington.
5. Remember - a small percentage of bats can carry rabies. If you have touched a bat or suspect exposure, contact your local Department of Health immediately.
What is white-nose syndrome?
White-nose syndrome is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The disease is estimated to have killed millions of bats in eastern North America since 2006 and can kill up to 100% of bats in a colony during hibernation.
In March 2016, the first case of white-nose syndrome in the western U.S. was confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) near North Bend in King County. Though the disease has devastated bat populations in eastern North America, we do not yet know how it will impact western bats. In general, bats in Washington do not hibernate in large groups like eastern North American bats. Thus, the spread of the disease in western states may be different.
The fungus can grow on the nose, wings, and ears of an infected bat during winter hibernation, giving it a white, fuzzy appearance. Once the bats wake from hibernation, this fuzzy white appearance goes away. Even though the fungus may not be visible, it invades deep skin tissues and causes extensive damage.
Affected bats arouse more often during hibernation which causes them to use crucial fat reserves, leading to possible starvation and death. Additional causes of mortality from the disease include wing damage, inability to regulate body temperature, breathing disruptions, and dehydration.
Learn more about white-nose syndrome and what researchers around the country are doing to prevent the spread of the disease at whitenosesyndrome.org.
Where is white-nose syndrome in Washington?
Counties with confirmed cases of white-nose syndrome
Counties confirmed to have the fungus present that causes white-nose syndrome
Affected bat species in Washington
White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in the following bat species in Washington:
- Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)
- Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis)
- Western long-eared bat (Myotis evotis)
- Fringed myotis (Myotis thysanodes)
Additionally, the silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) has been documented in Washington to carry the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
Click a location on the map for details about the cases in that area.
How the fungus spreads
The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is harmful to bats but not humans, livestock, or pets.
Though the fungus is believed to be primarily transferred via bat-to-bat or bat-to-environment contact, it can also be inadvertently spread by humans. People can carry fungal spores on clothing, shoes, or recreation equipment that comes into contact with the fungus. Properly decontaminating shoes, clothes, and equipment used in areas where bats live is critical to reduce the risk of spreading white-nose syndrome.
Visit whitenosesyndrome.org to learn how to properly decontaminate your equipment.
The fungus can survive in the environment of underground hibernacula (like caves and mines) for years, and scientists are currently researching how persistent it is in other environments where bats roost such as cliffs, attics, or under bridges.
Winter hibernating areas may serve as reservoirs for the fungus. Bats that use or even briefly visit these hibernating spots could deposit or pick up the fungus and move it to other areas where bats live. Identifying these types of environmental hot spots for the fungus, and how bats may be coming in contact with and moving the fungus across the landscape, is an important part of reducing the spread of white-nose syndrome in Washington bats.
How you can help
- Report groups of bats you see using the online observation reporting form. This information will help us understand our bat populations and monitor white-nose syndrome in Washington.
- Do not handle live bats. If you have found a sick or dead bat, please report it using the online reporting form and contact the closest wildlife rehab facility (see the list below).
- Avoid entering areas where bats may be living to limit the potential of transmitting the fungus that causes the disease and disturbing vulnerable bats. Do not allow pets to access areas where bats may be roosting or overwintering as they may carry the fungus to new sites.
- Get involved in bat conservation! Help improve bat habitats by reducing lighting around your home, minimize tree clearing, and protect streams and wetlands. Try to incorporate one or more snags into your landscape, keeping old and damaged trees when possible. Snags provide important habitat for bats and other backyard wildlife. For more information on living with bats, and instructions for how to build a bat house, download the "Living with Wildlife: Bats" publication.
COVID-19 and Bat Rehabilitation Update: Given the current unknowns and potential risks to North American bats, we have advised wildlife rehabilitators to avoid accepting new bats into their facilities to protect bats against the virus that causes COVID -19.
- Center Valley Animal Rescue, 360-765-0598
King & Snohomish counties
PAWS Wildlife Center, 425-412-4040
West Sound Wildlife Center, 206-855-9057
San Juan County
Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, 360-378-5000
- Bat Rehabilitation, 425-481-7446
- Happy Valley Bats, 360-652-7690
- Sarvey Wildlife Care Center, 360-435-4817
- Wisp of Hope Bat Rescue and Rehabilitation, 425-293-2708
- Chewelah Veterinary Clinic, 509-935-6424
- Whatcom Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Services, 360-966-8845
- WSU Exotics and Wildlife Ward, 509-335-0711
Why bats matter to our environment and economy
Bats are valuable members of ecosystems around the world, saving farmers in the U.S. alone over $3 billion each year in pest control services. One colony of bats can consume many tons of insects that would otherwise eat valuable crops, or threaten human health and well-being. Some bat species eat moths or beetles that are harmful forest pests.