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Bacterial Skin Disease in Lizards

Researchers are working to slow the spread of a common skin disease from captive-bred to wild lizards.

Scientists in Belgium have discovered a new bacterium responsible for skin infections in desert lizards - a finding that could help control the disease and protect endangered species, according to research published in the September 2008 issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Skin diseases common in pet lizards are being spread into the wild as a result of captive breeding programs designed to release threatened species of lizards into their natural habitats. These dermatological issues can lead to fatal organ disease and septicemia, an infection in the bloodstream.

“We isolated bacteria from five different desert lizards suffering from dermatitis – two agama lizards (Agama impalearis) and three spiny-tailed lizards (Uromastyx geryi and U. acanthinura),” said An Martel, a professor in the department of pathology, bacteriology and poultry diseases at Belgium’s Ghent University. “We could not identify the bacterium that was causing the disease, but the pathogen was the same in all five lizards.”

The genetic sequence of the bacterium, they found, represented a new taxon and species. Scientists named the new bacterium Devriesea agamarum. “We have demonstrated a causal relationship between this bacterium and the skin lesions in the desert-dwelling lizards,” said Martel. “This microbe is also related to bacteria that cause skin infections in humans.”

Cases of dermatitis and septicemia related to the new bacterium are highly prevalent, especially in captive lizards. Researchers hope their work will contribute to better understanding of lizard skin disease and foster the development of control measures. “In the future, we would like to study host-pathogen interactions, design treatments and investigate the use of a vaccination to prevent the development of disease caused by Devriesea agamarum,” Martel said.

Reprinted by permission from PET AGE, May 2009

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