Mar 13, 2010 12:32 PM GMT
In addition to all the other hazards koala bears face; animal attacks and getting hit by cars, they are also facing the dangers of two infectious diseases which are ravaging the koala population.
First is a retrovirus, known as KoRV, which causes similar symptoms as the virus that causes AIDS in humans. The virus alters the koala’s DNA causing leukemia, bone marrow failure, cancer and AIDS-like immune deficiencies.
With many koalas infected with KoRV and the subsequent immune suppression, other pathogens are causing devastating disease in the mammal.
Up to 50% of koala bears are infected with chlamydiosis, a bacterial infection caused by the organism Chlamydia. With the immune system being compromised in many koalas, the chlamydial infection is so much worse where bears are ravaged by the bacteria.
Wildlife authorities in Australia have already seen the extinction of some koala populations due to the newly seen (2000) retrovirus and there are fears that there may be more to come. Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology are currently working on a Chlamydia vaccine but expect it to be available in two years as long as funding is available.