Hopes new vaccine trial can save koalas from killer disease

VETS, vet nurses and University of the Sunshine Coast PhD students watched as the newest koala Chlamydia vaccine was trialed at Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.

The vaccine is the newest and most advanced composition in existence and the wildlife hospital hosted the world-first administration.

It was the first full medical trial following a smaller test that took place in Lismore last year - building on efforts over the past seven years to develop a successful vaccine for koalas.

BREAKTHROUGH: Dr Rosie Booth, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital Director, administers the vaccine to Flann the koala.
BREAKTHROUGH: Dr Rosie Booth, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital Director, administers the vaccine to Flann the koala. Contributed

Previous vaccine trials have focused on healthy koalas or animals with infection but no clinical disease but this trial aims to vaccinate koalas that already have Chlamydia and attempt to halt and even reverse the effects of the disease.

Chlamydial affects koalas in three different ways - conjunctivitis which can become so severe that it causes blindness; inflammation of the bladder and cystic reproductive tract disease in females, causing infertility.

Flann the koala was the patient who received the injection of the new vaccine and will be the first of a study of 30 animals in the ground-breaking trial.

Flann was brought into the Wildlife Hospital after rescuers noticed symptoms of conjunctivitis in his left eye. He was the perfect candidate for the treatment as he suffers from mild grade 1 Chlamydia, making signs of improvement more detectable.

Flann will be closely monitored for the next six weeks, with weekly swabs, blood work and photos taken to assess the success.

Once his conjunctivitis has cleared and he is fit to return to the wild, his progress will be monitored.

Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital director, Dr Rosie Booth, Dr Rosie Booth, had the honour of administering the vaccine and said she was optimistic for what it could do for koala conservation.

"With 38% of koala admissions at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital from July 2014 to July 2015 due to Chlamydiosis, this vaccine is a groundbreaking first step towards reducing the number of diseased koalas we're seeing and creating healthier koala populations in the wild," she said.



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