White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is an epizootic disease in hibernating bats caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Surveillance for P. destructans at bat hibernacula consists primarily of visual surveys of bats, collection of potentially infected bats, and submission of these bats for laboratory testing. Cryptic infections (bats that are infected but display no visual signs of fungus) could lead to the mischaracterization of the infection status of a site and the inadvertent spread of P. destructans. We determined the efficacy of visual detection of P. destructans by examining visual signs and molecular detection of P. destructans on 928 bats of six species at 27 sites during surveys conducted from January through March in 2012–2014 in the southeastern USA on the leading edge of the disease invasion. Cryptic infections were widespread with 77% of bats that tested positive by qPCR showing no visible signs of infection. The probability of exhibiting visual signs of infection increased with sampling date and pathogen load, the latter of which was substantially higher in three species (Myotis lucifugus, M. septentrionalis, and Perimyotis subflavus). In addition, M. lucifugus was more likely to show visual signs of infection than other species given the same pathogen load. Nearly all infections were cryptic in three species (Eptesicus fuscus, M. grisescens, and M. sodalis), which had much lower fungal loads. The presence of M. lucifugus or M. septentrionalis at a site increased the probability that P. destructans was visually detected on bats. Our results suggest that cryptic infections of P. destructans are common in all bat species, and visible infections rarely occur in some species. However, due to very high infection prevalence and loads in some species, we estimate that visual surveys examining at least 17 individuals of M. lucifugus and M. septentrionalis, or 29 individuals of P. subflavus are still effective to determine whether a site has bats infected with P. destructans. In addition, because the probability of visually detecting the fungus was higher later in winter, surveys should be done as close to the end of the hibernation period as possible.
|Date made available||2016|