NONLETHAL SCREENING OF BAT-WING SKIN WITH THE USE OF ULTRAVIOLET FLUORESCENCE TO DETECT LESIONS INDICATIVE OF WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME
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Definitive diagnosis of the bat disease white-nose syndrome (WNS) requires histologic analysis to identify the cutaneous erosions caused by the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus [formerly Geomyces] destructans (Pd). Gross visual inspection does not distinguish bats with or without WNS, and no nonlethal, on-site, preliminary screening methods are available for WNS in bats. We demonstrate that long-wave ultraviolet (UV) light (wavelength 366–385 nm) elicits a distinct orange–yellow fluorescence in bat-wing membranes (skin) that corresponds directly with the fungal cupping erosions in histologic sections of skin that are the current gold standard for diagnosis of WNS. Between March 2009 and April 2012, wing membranes from 168 North American bat carcasses submitted to the US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center were examined with the use of both UV light and histology. Comparison of these techniques showed that 98.8% of the bats with foci of orange–yellow wing fluorescence (n = 80) were WNS-positive based on histologic diagnosis; bat wings that did not fluoresce under UV light (n = 88) were all histologically negative for WNS lesions. Punch biopsy samples as small as 3 mm taken from areas of wing with UV fluorescence were effective for identifying lesions diagnostic for WNS by histopathology. In a nonlethal biopsy-based study of 62 bats sampled (4-mm diameter) in hibernacula of the Czech Republic during 2012, 95.5% of fluorescent (n = 22) and 100% of nonfluorescent (n = 40) wing samples were confirmed by histopathology to be WNS positive and negative, respectively. This evidence supports use of long-wave UV light as a nonlethal and field-applicable method to screen bats for lesions indicative of WNS. Further, UV fluorescence can be used to guide targeted, nonlethal biopsy sampling for follow-up molecular testing, fungal culture analysis, and histologic confirmation of WNS.