According to surveys of several wild populations, there is a 100 percent infection rate. Chlamydia can cause infertility, severe bladder inflammation, blindness and death. Even more problematic is that antibiotic treatments can exacerbate the problem for the animals. Antibiotics could disrupt the gut microbes and make it hard for them to digest the eucalyptus leaves, which is a key part of their diet.
While chlamydia has raged in koalas for years, it’s not known why the animals are so vulnerable to it. However, scientists believe the chlamydia virus is in the same family of HIV. Researchers looked at the koalas infected with the koala retrovirus type B virus were likely to have chlamydia and could develop serious complications like an infection in their reproductive and urinary tract, cancer and conjunctivitis.
How the virus is transmitted is the same as humans – sexual contract – but young koalas can get infected by consuming pap – a nutritious kind of feces that infected mothers excrete.
Koalas given antibiotics have been shown to lose weight and die after getting the treatment. Researchers suggest the drugs trying to help them are actually doing them more harm than good. They believe the drugs are interfering with the animal’s digestion and making it harder for them to break down the potentially toxic tannin compound because of the lack of gut microbes.
In the last 20 years, koala populations in Australia have dropped nearly 80 percent in many areas. Surveys of treatment facility records show that chlamydia was the deadliest of all diseases the animals are infected – the deadliest is injury from vehicles.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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