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Unaffected Koala Population Facing Chlamydia Infection Threat in Australia

Jan 14, 2013 11:02 AM EST

Australian researchers have warned that the unaffected colony of koala population in Campbelltown, New South Wales, is facing a major threat of getting chlamydia infection.

Researchers from the University of Sydney's Wildlife Health and Conservation Center have identified an outbreak of koala chlamydia in Southern Highlands, with one infected koala from the area getting treated for the disease. The koala has a bilateral eye infection with chlamydia, which has nearly blinded her, said the researchers.

They are worried that the infection might soon spread to Campbelltown, where the koala population has a genetic diversity because of their immune genes.

The significance of genetic diversity in koalas is not yet known, but the experts urge for the need to protect the species from the disease, as there is limited genetic diversity in their immune genes.

"The disease is infiltrating the population in the Southern Highlands which is concerning but we are even more worried that it may spread north and east into the Campbelltown population," David Phalen, the director of the Center, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, said in a statement.

"The Campbelltown colony has an estimated 500 animals. They have been closely studied for 20 years and no evidence of chlamydia has ever been found in this healthy, growing population."

Five koalas have been treated for the disease in the last three years. Koalas that have been infected with chlamydia are mostly from the Mittagong area, which is located slightly more than 12 miles from Southern Highlands.

The researchers pointed out that there are two types of chlamydia infection - chlamydia pecorum which usually attacks the bladder and the reproductive tract, and chlamydia pneumonia which causes eye disease. Both types of the infection have been found in the Southern Highland population.

All infected koalas are being treated using guidelines developed by researchers at the University of Sydney, which help in curing the infection.

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