In a positive step against the fast-spreading disease that has pushed bats toward extinction in the eastern U.S., scientists say they have identified potential cures, Discovery News reports.
The condition, called white-nose syndrome, is caused by a tenacious white fungus that grows on the bats’ muzzles and wings, disturbing their hibernation and killing them with stunning lethality.
In caves where bats are found infected, 90 to 97 percent eventually die.
The condition has all but eradicated bats from the Northeast, spreading from New York to Quebec to Oklahoma, running unchecked as the winged mammals (and possibly humans) spread it cave to cave.
Researchers at the source of the outbreak, in upstate New York, say a potential cure could come from an anti-fungal compound found in most pharmacies and used to treat common human conditions, such as athlete’s foot, Discovery says.
The compound, fluconazole, is one of several promising drugs that can kill the fungus, and might be paired with a set of five antiseptics to decontaminate areas where the fungus grows, the AP reports.
Al Hicks, an expert from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation involved in uncovering the treatments, cautioned that a lot of work is still to be done. The drugs can currently kill the fungus in petri dishes, but a plan for how to effectively deploy them to save bats has yet to be drawn up, he told the Bellingham Herald.
The next step, he said, is to test the drugs on bats themselves, to see if it can kill the fungus without harming the animal.
Bats are a crucial part of the environment, consuming huge amounts of insects on a nightly basis.