Australia Is Protecting Koala’s Against Chlamydia In Latest Vaccine Trial

Koala populations have dropped drastically over the past few years, causing concern amongst conservationists. In September 2019, nearly one billion animals were killed in Australia’s bush-fire, which devastated the koala population.

Beyond natural disasters and habitat loss threatening the species, koalas have also been suffering from chlamydia. In fact, a study by the University of Queensland was shared by Phys.org that reveals the “biggest factor in koala deaths and infertility” is chlamydia.

Chlamydia is rapidly spread through koala populations through both sexual contact and mothers passing it to their young. Mother koalas produce a substance called “pap” which is a nutritious fecal matter that joeys eat when they’ve outgrown milk but haven’t fully transitioned to eating eucalyptus leaves. Sadly, the pap of infected mothers ends up spreading the disease to the offspring who eat it.

Photo: Pixabay/FotoshopTofs

Researchers and conservationists have been working to combat chlamydia in koalas for years and came up with an antibiotic to treat infected animals. However, the antibiotic has been shown to have an adverse effect on koalas. Those who are treated with antibiotics are not able to break down tannins in eucalyptus leaves as effectively, leaving them vulnerable to malnutrition, according to a 2018 study.

With koala populations continuing to drop and chlamydia causing infertility, a solution desperately needed to be reached, and it’s possible that researchers have found the cure: a vaccine.

Photo: Facebook/USC: University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

NBC News reports that researchers with the University of the Sunshine Coast have created an experimental chlamydia vaccine and have administered it to 200 koalas already. The results have been promising.

According to NBC News, USC microbiology professor Peter Timms stated: “The vaccine has now passed Phase 1 and Phase 2 testing that has established that it is completely safe and produces a good immune response and a good level of protection.”

The trials have recently moved on to the third phase of the trial and will be vaccinating an additional 400 koalas.

Photo: Pixabay/dayamay

Koalas are currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List, but some are calling for their status to be expedited to “Endangered” status so they can receive further protection and resources before its too late. You can sign a petition to ask Australia’s Federal Environment Minister to elevate koalas to endangered status here.

While a cure for chlamydia won’t solve all of the koalas’ problems, it’s a great start in ensuring the species survives for generations to come. Watch the video below to learn more about Phase 3 of the trial vaccine trials:

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