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    Forest Service sees hope in battle against bat disease

    ST. LOUIS — Officials with the US Forest Service are cautiously optimistic that a new treatment may help bats survive a disease known as white-nose syndrome that has killed millions of bats.

    About 60 brown bats found with the disease last fall were successfully treated and released back into the wild Tuesday at the Mark Twain Cave complex near Hannibal, Mo.

    ‘‘While more research is needed before we know if our current discovery is an effective and environmentally safe treatment for white-nose syndrome, we are very encouraged,’’ said Michael T. Rains, director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory.

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    National Wildlife Research Program leader Monica Tomosy said at the bat release that white-nose syndrome is among the most devastating wildlife diseases in recent memory, according to the Hannibal Courier-Post.

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    The syndrome is named for the white fungus that appears on the bats’ noses. First detected in New York in 2006, it has killed an estimated 5 million to 6 million bats in 28 states and Canada. It was first seen in Missouri about five years ago.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS