Chlamydial infections in wildlife–conservation threats and/or reservoirs of ‘spill-over’ infections?
Delaney Burnard, Adam Polkinghorne*
Centre for Animal Health Innovation, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Queensland 4556, Australia
Members of the order Chlamydiales are biphasic intracellular pathogens known to cause disease in both humans and animals. As we learn more about the genetic diversity of this group of pathogens, evidence is growing that these bacteria infect a broader range of animal hosts than previously thought. Over 400 host species are now documented globally with the majority of these being wild animals. Given the impact of chlamydial infections on humans and domesticated animals, the identification of members of the order Chlamydiales in wildlife raises significant questions over a) their impact on animal health and b) the relationships to those strains also found in humans and domestic animals. In some species such as the iconic marsupial, the koala, the conservation impact is known with chlamydial infections associated with debilitating disease, however, in general, little is known about the pathogenic potential of Chlamydiae infecting most wildlife hosts. Accumulating evidence suggests contact with wild animals is a risk factor for infections in domestic animals and/or humans. Beyond the well-recognised zoonotic pathogen, Chlamydia psittaci, a range of studies have now reported traditional pathogens in the family Chlamydiaceae such as Chlamydia pecorum, Chlamydia suis, Chlamydia pneumoniae and Chlamydia abortus in wild animals. The spectre of cross-host transmission ‘spill-over’ and ‘spill-back’ in the epidemiology of infections is of potential concern, however, comprehensive epidemiological studies are lacking for most of these. Accurate evaluation of the significance of chlamydial infections in wildlife is otherwise hampered by i) the cross-sectional nature of most impact studies, ii) a lack of standardised diagnostic approaches, iii) limited study sizes, and iv) biases associated with opportunistic sampling.
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