Optimising the Short and Long-term Clinical Outcomes for Koalas During Treatment for Chlamydial

Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) have suffered severe declines in the northern extent of their range due to a variety of threats, including habitat destruction, trauma from cars and dogs, climate change and importantly, disease. The most significant pathogen in koalas is Chlamydia pecorum, which causes inflammation and fibrosis at mucosal sites, resulting in blindness, infertility and death in severe cases. Chlamydia treatment can be problematic in koalas as the response to treatment is often poor in chronic cases and antimicrobial choice is limited. Thus, chlamydial disease is a severely threatening process for koala conservation.

We investigated the short and long-term clinical outcomes for 167 koalas with Chlamydia that underwent capture, telemetric monitoring and intensive veterinary management as part of a large-scale population management program in South East Queensland. Chlamydia treatments included the standard regimen of daily subcutaneous chloramphenicol injections (60mg/kg) for 14 to 28-days, and a variety of non-standard regimens such as topical antimicrobials only (for ocular disease), surgical treatment only (for bilateral reproductive tract disease), and other antimicrobials/treatment lengths. To assess these regimens we analysed clinical records, field monitoring data and swab samples collected from the urogenital tract and ocular conjunctiva. Overall, in contrast to other studies, treatment was generally successful with 86.3% of treated koalas released back into the wild.

The success of treatment rose to 94.8% however, when the standard treatment regimen was employed. Further, 100% of koalas that were also treated with surgical ovariohysterectomy (n = 12) remained healthy for a median of 466 days of post-treatment monitoring, demonstrating the benefits of surgical treatment. Previous studies reported 45-day chloramphenicol regimens, but the shorter standard regimen still achieved microbiological cure and reduces the risk of negative sequelae associated with treatment and/or captivity and treatment costs. Despite these positive clinical outcomes, alternatives to chloramphenicol are warranted due to its decreasing availability.