Koalas and the fight against Chlamydia
Chlamydia is a prominent threat facing koalas throughout Queensland and New South Wales. The Chlamydia bacterium infects a wide range of animals, including birds, sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, cats, mice and humans. It is considered to be the main pathogen of koalas.
Chlamydia is readily transmitted to young koalas in the birth canal and via pap (a special faeces produced by the mother and ingested by the joey). Mating and incidental contact such as fighting are also considered likely sources of infection.
Chlamydia causes chronic infections in koalas. The infections occur in the urogenital tract and the respiratory tract and can cause infertility, blindness and ultimately death. The visible symptoms are conjunctivitis ('pink eye') and urinary tract infections causing incontinence, leading to a condition known as 'dirty tail' or 'wet bottom'.
The bacteria can be treated with a daily dose of antiboitics over a long period, so is only practical with a captive animal.
In a world first, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) scientists are developing a Chlamydia vaccine for koalas. Peter Timms and Ken Beagley from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation have vaccinated 18 of Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary’s female koalas and blood samples have indicated promising results.