Wildlife officials monitoring disease found in GA snake

Wildlife officials monitoring disease found in GA snake

BULLOCH COUNTY, GA (WFXG) - A disease similar to the illness killing bats by the millions has been documented in a wild snake in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

An emaciated mud snake from Bulloch County tested positive in July for snake fungal disease, which can cause scabs, crusty scales, nodules, abnormal molting and other changes to a snake's skin.

The snake was the first free-ranging snake that was confirmed to have Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, the fungus associated with the disease, according to the Athens-based Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study.

The disease was first reported in a captive black rat snake from Sparta, Ga. Since 2006, it has turned up in growing numbers of wild snakes in the eastern and midwestern U.S.

Wildlife officials said they're not sure of the impact the disease will have on the overall snake population in Georgia, but the disease killed all of the snakes who showed signs of infection last year in Illinois.

The increasing reports and potential threat have prompted comparisons to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 5.7 million hibernating bats and spread from the northeast to as far west as Missouri. White-nose was confirmed in Georgia in 2013.

Scientists say the fungus related to white-nose is similar in some aspects to Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, including that it occurs naturally in soil.

The challenge in learning more is that snakes are more difficult to monitor than many other animals, wildlife officials say.

The fungus is not transmitted to humans, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. However, people could possibly carry it on clothes or equipment, which could widen the spread of the disease.

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