Chlamydia is rapidly spreading among Australia's koalas. Now, they're getting vaccinated.

·3 min read

Hundreds of koalas in Australia will receive a chlamydia vaccine in the coming months in hopes of helping the native species that has been plagued by the sexually transmitted disease.

In humans, chlamydia is a cureable STD both men and women can get. If left untreated, it can cause serious and permanent damage to a woman's reproductive systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The same effects apply to koalas, which can only be found in the wild in Australia. The disease has rapidly spread among the koala population and is estimated to have infected over half of some of the marsupial's populations.

"It is a cruel disease that causes debilitating conjunctivitis, bladder infections and at times, infertility," Amber Gillett, a veterinarian and research coordinator for the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, said in a statement. "Although many koalas with chlamydia can be treated using traditional antibiotics, some animals cannot be saved due to the severity of their infection."

Now, a team of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland are rolling out a chlamydia vaccine to around 400 koalas in the country to help the population get back on its feet.

Peter Timms, a microbiology professor at the university, said early trials of the vaccine have been observed in over 200 koalas, both in the wild and in captivity, which showed the vaccine to be safe and to provide a good immune response. Now, koalas admitted to the wildlife hospital with the STD will receive a single dose of the vaccine and will be microchipped before they are released into the wild to monitor if any of the animals return up to the hospital up to a year afterward.

"While this vaccination will directly benefit each of the animals, the trial will also have a focus on the protection provided by vaccination," Timms said.

'In rapid decline': Australia has lost 30% of its koalas in just 3 years, foundation says

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The disease is one of many reasons contributing to the decline of the koala population in the country. Conservation groups believe the species should be considered a critically endangered one, suffering from the effects of global warming like brushfires and habitat destruction. The Australia Koala Foundation said in September the country had lost over 30% of its koala population, which is estimated to now be from 32,065 and 57,920.

Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the state government is funding around $100,000 in hopes of helping one of the country's most iconic animals.

"The koala is one of the great natural icons of Queensland. And to be able to make such huge strides in the vaccine rollout is testament to Queensland’s scientific excellence," she said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Koalas in Australia to get chlamydia vaccine for STD plaguing species

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