Australia Starts Chlamydia Vaccine Trials on Koalas

To save the “functionally extinct” koalas from completely disappearing, Australian researchers and wildlife veterinarians on Friday have started vaccinating koalas against chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease that has spread widely among Australian koalas.

“It is a cruel disease that causes debilitating conjunctivitis, bladder infections, and at times, infertility,” Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital veterinarian and coordinator of research, Amber Gillett, said in a statement on Friday as the trial began.

The single-dose vaccine would inoculate the koalas against Chlamydia pecorum, a bacterial disease that could lead to blindness.

University of the Sunshine Coast microbiology professor Peter Timms said that “the trial will also have a focus on the protection provided by vaccination.” 

Timms added that the vaccine would reduce infection levels and help reduce the likelihood of chlamydia transmission.

“We’re pretty sure it’s predominantly sexually transmitted, but the mothers transmit it to their babies very effectively [too],” Timms said.

The researchers said they hoped the vaccine would improve the survival and reproduction of the koalas, especially in parts of southeast Queensland and New South Wales, where chlamydia affected more than half of koala populations.

Previously, a federal panel of threatened species experts said koalas could soon be listed as endangered in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory and could be extinct by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

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