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WA researchers discover virus in lizards

AAP logoAAP 11/11/2016 Rebecca Gredley

A flu-like disease with no known cause that has been killing native lizards for the past 20 years might have has been identified by WA researchers.

Scientists from Murdoch University discovered the new virus species after examining sick bobtail lizards in animal rehabilitation centres.

They hope to now develop an antibody giving immunity to the rest of the population.

Bobtail lizards are also known as shinglebacks and are a close relative of blue-tongue lizards.

The virus is one of the biggest threats to wildlife in WA, co-author Bethany Jackson says.

"Based on numbers presenting to rescue centres, this is one of WA's most common wildlife infectious disease issues, and arguably one of the most urgent disease threats of wildlife in WA," Dr Jackson said.

Co-author Mark O'Dea said it was the first report of a nidovirus in lizards, and has been tentatively named 'Shingleback nidovirus 1'.

"While this virus is statistically associated with the flu-like disease, we have not confirmed that it is the cause or that every bobtail infected with the virus will succumb to disease - a bit like flu in humans," Dr O'Dea said.

The symptoms of the flu-like disease are similar to the symptoms in humans - snotty nose, weepy eyes and weight loss.

Research will now look at how the virus is transmitted, how it will effect the survival of wild bobtails, treatment and testing methods.

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