The fungal disease has killed more than 5 million bats in the eastern United States since it was first found in a New York cave in 2006.
It was first detected in Ohio in March, when wildlife officials confirmed it in bats living in an abandoned mine in the Wayne National Forest in Lawrence County.
Twinsburg park staff found a dead little brown bat in mid-January and a wildlife disease lab in Athens, Ga., confirmed the fungus Geomyces destructans. Since then, alert bats have been seen near the mouth of the cave, where they should still be hibernating.
The fungus grows into white tufts on a bat's nose then spreads to other bats. The fungus does not kill the bats directly, but causes them to rouse from hibernation too often and too early, which leads to starvation, researchers say.
Summit County Metro Parks has posted a video about the syndrome:
"Liberty Park is surrounded by subdivisions, and unfortunately there are a lot of off-trail hikers who wander the woods there and go into these caves," said Mike Johnson, chief of natural resources for the Metro Parks.
"They're not only violating park rules by being in these protected areas, but they may actually be spreading the disease and making things worse."
Humans can transport the fungal spores on their shoes, clothes and gear. The fungus requires cool temperatures and does not affect humans.
The bat species living in Summit County include little brown, big brown, northern long-eared, red, hoary, silver-haired and tri-colored. The population is estimated at tens of thousands. The federally endangered Indiana bat has also been seen there. Bats are important predators of mosquitoes, beetles, moths and agricultural and forest pests.
Nina Fascione, director of Bat Conservation International, said, "we are struggling against the most precipitous decline of North American wildlife species in a century. The future for hibernating bats looks grim."
Anyone who sees more than six dead bats or large numbers of bats flying when it is less than 40 degrees outside is asked to call 800-WILDLIFE (945-3543) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more at White Nose Syndrome,Bat Conservation International and Fish and Wildlife Service/whitenosesyndrome.