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Virus may protect Colorado's bat colonies
A disease impacting bat colonies in North America has yet to surface in Colorado. However, a new study is giving hope to local wildlife biologists on the look-out for potential outbreaks.
Bats with the white-nose syndrome are prone to immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS), a virus that is similar to AIDS, according to the study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Institutes of Health.
It's bad news for many bats in general, but perhaps not for Colorado's colonies. Because IRIS increases the rapidity of bat mortality, infected bats are less likely to travel abroad, according to Tina Jackson, a species conservation coordinator for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department.
“I'm very worried about the white-nose syndrome outbreak,” Jackson said. “It's currently our understanding that it would only take one infected bat for cases of IRIS and white-nose to start occurring — this new virus could quicken the spread or it could cause a more rapid die-off of bats with WNS, which would actually be better for keeping the infection out of Colorado.”
The connection between the two syndromes could help physicians to find ways to treat human AIDS patients. It would also help wildlife researchers in Colorado to become more proactive in keeping the disease out of the state.
So far the state's efforts to keep white-nose syndrome out of the area, including monitoring of caves in Colorado, have been successful. In other states, however, researchers are finding that bats that would have survived the syndrome are succumbing to another virus following their recovery.
This condition was first described in HIV-AIDS patients. However, the infected bats are the first non-human occurrence of IRIS ever observed, said Carol Meteyer, author of the study.
“IRIS is a syndrome which an organism's immune system, having been suppressed for a time, reactivates,” Meteyer said. “Perceiving a serious infection around it, the body goes into overdrive resulting in severe inflammation and tissue damage in infected areas.”
With bats, IRIS causes wing tissue to become damaged during hibernation. So, even if a bat recovers from the white-nose syndrome, if it has become infected by IRIS the likelihood of death increases.
Local wildlife biologists say they're still in “the wait and see stage” of dealing with white nose syndrome and new IRIS outbreaks.
Jackson said the new study would not affect current efforts to keep outbreaks outside of the state.
In human patients with HIV-AIDS and bats with WNS, the functioning of the immune system is severely compromised. For both humans and bats, IRIS can be fatal, according to the study.
“For humans, this occurs when the HIV virus attacks the patient's white blood cells, and for bats, this occurs during normal hibernation,” Meteyer said.