Arkansas caves closed to stop disease spread

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service has closed nearly all its caves in Arkansas to the public in hopes of curbing the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is fatal to bats.

The closure will run until 2019 and affects all caves in Arkansas except for Blanchard Springs Caverns in Stone County. The U.S. Forest Service says the five-year closure will allow scientists to conduct tests and prevent the spread of the disease, which has killed nearly 7 million bats in New England and mid-Atlantic states.

Officials say humans can spread the disease because spores can attach to clothing or equipment. Scientists believe the fungus causes bats to wake up during hibernation and eventually die from starvation.

Anyone who violates the order could face fines or prison time.

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