Happy Valentine’s Day!!
Koalas are adorable. (Seriously, go google image search koalas.) Koalas are also a threatened species, where population sizes in Australia are declining rapidly. Part of this decline is due to human encroachment into koala habitat: we cut down their trees, run them over with our cars, and let our dogs attack them. Another major cause of koala population declines is disease.
What pathogen is wiping out koalas? Well, it’s one that you probably wouldn’t guess: chlamydia. The bacteria is transmitted between males and females during sex and between mothers and their joeys, and the disease can be very, very unpleasant for infected koalas. The range of symptoms includes lesions, urinary incontinence, secondary yeast infections, sterilization due to infection in the reproductive tract, conjunctivitis and even blindness when infection occurs in the eyes, and death in the worst cases.
For koala populations as a whole, chlamydia-induced infertility is a huge problem. The prevalence of infection can be very high in koala populations, which leaves very few reproductively functional individuals. The good news is that there’s also a huge effort underway to treat and rehabilitate sick and injured koalas. Additionally, a vaccine has been developed to prevent koala chlamydia, and early trials with the vaccine have been successful. Let’s hope that in the near future, a typical koala conversation will look like this:
Koalas aren’t the only animals that have STDs, of course. For instance, you might rekoal a post (I’m so sorry, really) that I wrote last Valentine’s Day about insect STDs. Go check it out!