The researchers reported on the test at the 2014 Mycological Society of America Annual Meeting.
"We need people to know that they don't have to anesthetize an animal to collect a biopsy sample or, worse yet, euthanize snakes in order to test for the infection," said University of Illinois comparative biosciences department professor Matthew Allender, an expert in snake fungal disease. "Now we can identify the infections earlier, we can intervene earlier and we can potentially increase our success of treatment or therapy."
The new test uses quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), which amplifies fungal DNA to identify the species present and measure the extent of infection.
Researchers first took notice of Ophidiomyces
(oh-FID-ee-oh-my-sees) in snakes in the mid-2000s. Today the fungus threatens the last remaining eastern massasauga (mass-uh-SAW-guh) rattlesnake population in Illinois and has been found to infect timber rattlesnakes, mud snakes, rat snakes, garter snakes, milk snakes, water snakes and racers in several states, Allender said.