While fewer than 40% of sexually active women are tested for chlamydia, even fewer koalas are tested for the STD, which seems irrelevant, except when you consider that they’re absolutely lousy with it. According to a recent report from The Telegraph, nearly 70% of koalas are carrying chlamydia, causing major health risks and fatalities for the populations in Queensland and New South Wales. Usually associated with infertility in females, two Queensland scientists have discovered how chlamydia damages male koalas’ sperm DNA. This study will help to contribute to science’s understanding of human sexual health, as well.
Professor Ken Beagley, of QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, explained the basic results of the study, which tested how chlamydia effects the sexual health and fertility of male koalas.
“Looking across populations, between 40 and as high as 70 per cent of koalas will be carrying chlamydia somewhere in their body. Damage to sperm DNA has certainly been demonstrated in males with chlamydial infections and a history of chlamydial infections is associated with reduced fertility. For males, if they’ve got it in the testes that’s causing degradation of their sperm so they can’t breed as successfully. But it’s still understudied and there’s a lot of debate.”
The team spent seven years developing a chlamydia vaccine for the koalas. “We have a vaccine we think is effective. We’ve run a number of trials on captive koalas and are currently immunising some wild koala populations,” Beagley added. One of his team members, Stephen Johnston, is hoping to find the right way to catch the disease before it starts.
“Based on our findings in the koala, we are attempting to develop methods whereby we can either treat the whole animal or the semen sample before natural mating.”
This could mean big strides in developing a version of the vaccine that would be effective on human chlamydia. The team’s research will be presented by Professor Beagley in Adelaide at a conference some time this week.