THE fungal disease
killing Tasmania's platypuses is a forgotten epidemic, says a leading
Pathologist Niall Stewart says the state's platypuses are suffering from
the "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome.
Dr Stewart says few people see platypuses and even less spend time
thinking about them.
"Most Tasmanians hardly ever see a platypus, let alone one with an
ulcer," Dr Stewart said.
About 36 per cent of animals caught by researchers have ulcers, which
have been caused by the fungal infection Mucor amphibiorum.
The fungus was first detected in Germany in 1974 and has since been
found in amphibians, including green tree frogs and cane toads, in most
parts of Australia.
It was first identified in Tasmania in the 1990s and has now been found
right across the central north of the state. Tasmania is the only place
the fungus has been detected in platypuses.
Dr Stewart said fungus diseases were usually opportunistic and
developed on hosts with immune system problems.
Among the possible causes of immune system problems were man-made
chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs),
dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethan (DDT) and Hexachlorocycloheaxane
PCBs are used in transformer oil, paints and plastics.
They were banned in the US in the 1970s but low level PCB oils are
still in use by the Hydro in Tasmania.
DDT, banned in 1987, and Lindane are insecticides which have been used
in Tasmania. The chemicals tend to bioaccumulate in animals high on the
Dr Stewart said PCBs, DDT and Lindane were all found in the tailfat of
the state's platypuses.
"PCBs and DDT are present at quite high levels in some areas," Dr
"But probably not high enough to cause immunosuppression."
He said high levels of PCBs were found in platypuses in areas without
the fungal infection, which suggested the chemical pollution was not
involved in the disease.
Dr Stewart said the disease had the potential to greatly affect the
"At the moment there is no research at all being done," Dr Stewart
"There hasn't been any research done since 2002.
"We really need to do some more work on this."