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HANNIBAL, MO (KTVI) – The state of Missouri is on the frontlines of the battle against a deadly fungus that is killing off bats at an alarming rate.

White Nose Syndrome (WSN) is spreading like wildfire across eastern North America since it was first discovered near Albany, New York about 8 years ago.

“White nose syndrome is cause by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans which was first introduced in the United States in 2006-2007,” according to Chris Cornelison, a researcher at Georgia State University.

Since then it has spread into four provinces in Canada and 28 states in U.S.  In 2011, it reached Missouri with the first reported cases in Pike and Lincoln Counties.

Earlier this year, 14 new counties were added to the growing list of Missouri counties with known NSF cases.

The disease gets its name from the telltale white coating that is found on the nose and other parts of the bat’s body.

“Unlike most fungal invasions you get very deep tissue invasion that causes premature burning of fat reserves and dehydration.  You also have severe morbidity of the wings where the bats lose the ability to fly.”

And, if they cannot fly, they cannot eat.

“In some of the worst cases they are completely gone. No more bats,” says Cornelison.

Sybill Amelon is a research wildlife biologist with the US Forest Service in Columbia, Missouri.  She is part of the team developing the new treatment which uses the gaseous byproduct of a common Missouri soil organism.

“What we have observed is that by putting bats in a shared air space and by that I mean in some kind of enclosed environment where this can fill the air around them it serves as a fungicide,” says Amelon.

Since 2007 an estimated 6 million bats have been killed by WNT according to Katie Gillies of Bat Conservation International.

Those lost bats mean more and more flying bugs in the air, the kind that eat crops and vegetation.

“With the loss of that many bats on the landscape we’re going to start feeling the effects.  There are 17 million pounds of insects not consumed,” say Gillies.

According to Bat Conservation International statistics, the estimated economic loss from WNS has already reached anywhere from $5 billion to $50 billion.

The research treatment in Missouri is still in the very early stages, but the early results are promising for the long term future.