Recent advances in understanding the biology, epidemiology and control of chlamydial infections in koalas
Adam Polkinghorne a,*, Jon Hanger b, Peter Timms a
a Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, 60MuskAvenue, KelvinGrove, Brisbane 4059, Australia
b Endeavour Veterinary Ecology Pty Ltd, 1695 Pumicestone Road, Toorbul 4510, Australia
The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is recognised as a threatened wildlife species in various parts of Australia. A major contributing factor to the decline and long-term viability of affected populations is disease caused by the obligate intracellular bacteria, Chlamydia. Two chlamydial species infect the koala, Chlamydia pecorum and Chlamydia pneumoniae, and have been reported in nearly all mainland koala populations. Chlamydial infections of koalas are associated with ocular infections leading to blindness and genital tract infections linked to infertility, among other serious clinical manifestations. Diagnosis can be based on clinical presentation alone, however, it is complicated by the observation that many koala chlamydial infections occur with no overt signs of clinical disease. Instead, accurate diagnosis requires detailed clinical assessment and confirmatory testing by a range of PCR-based assays. Antibiotic treatment for koala chlamydial infection is possible, however, results on its success are mixed. A more practical solution for the protection of diseased populations is the application of a koala Chlamydia vaccine, with recent trials indicating promising results. Interestingly, molecular epidemiology studies of koala C. pecorum infections and recent comparative genomic analyses of koala C. pneumoniae have revealed potential differences in their origin that will have wider ramifications for our understanding of human chlamydial infections and host adaptation of the chlamydiae. This review summarises changes to the taxonomy of koala chlamydial infections and recent advances in our understanding of the epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment, control and evolution of Chlamydia infections in this iconic wildlife species.