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Mycoplasma - A word of warning.  -  Darrell Senneke  

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Recently a friend of mine was looking for adult Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis) to add to his collection. I happened to know that he also had Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans). As all of my Leopards were formerly rehabilitation animals,  he asked if I wanted to part with a pair or trio. In my group of seven Leopards three have cases of long term RNS (Runny Nose Syndrome). This is a very frequent problem in groups of Leopards - almost everyone I know can share stories of a Leopard that cannot be completely cured of this ailment. All three had been treated with systemic antibiotics  from time to time with the animal responding to the antibiotic in two cases but  not in the third. The antibiotics used were Amikacin and Baytril.  A culture was run on one of these animals and klebsiella was detected. A sensitivity was  run on the klebsiella to determine which antibiotic would be the most effective - Amikacin was prescribed.   The problem with klebsiella is that you could culture it easily from almost anything so in my opinion it is a non-culprit / opportunistic bacteria in this case.   In both of the cases where there was a response, the symptoms returned over time.  If given dry heat the RNS tends to dry up but never truly goes away completely.


These animals have not been tested yet for Mycoplasma but I think it would be safe to presuppose at this point that this may be the problem.   If so I would have to assume that ALL of my Leopards are seropositive for it.  ”Mycoplasmosis"  is a respiratory illness caused by Mycoplasma, a microscopic organism related to bacteria but lacking a cell wall. The organism is larger than a virus but smaller than a bacterium, thus it is called an "Atypical" bacteria. There are some indications now that this disease has always been a problem and cycles over  the years - even in human population groups.   A mild to severe nasal discharge characterizes the most common clinical presentation of Mycoplasma.  At the University of Florida species of tortoises presented with nasal discharge have included Greek tortoises (Testudo graeca), Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis), Radiated tortoises (Geochelone radiata), Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus).


Mycoplasma is pretty common in all sorts of animals  - more common every day it seems.  The type of Mycoplasma that infects tortoises cannot infect people but different types of Mycoplasma have now been associated as a cause or co-factor in:



Source - Mycoplasma Registry for gulf war illness & chronic fatigue syndrome.


I am not a doctor but Mycoplasma’s possible implication in all of these various human ailments suggests that at the current time the workings of this are still pretty much unknown.


Now after saying all of that and knowing that my Leopards might have this and knowing that my friend has Star tortoises - there is no way I would take any chance of cross contamination if I were in his shoes. Isolation and quarantine can only do so much and over the years there would almost certainly be a slip up here and there which could lead to infection of his Stars. 


There is hope in all of this howeverInexpensive testing is now available for Mycoplasma and I would encourage everyone with doubts about a persistent nasal discharge to have at least one of their animals tested.  There are currently two methods for testing available.  Both tests are run at the University of Florida.  The first test is a serological test that requires about .5-1 ml of blood that can be easily drawn by your veterinarian from the front limb.  This test tells you whether and to what degree the animal has been exposed to Mycoplasma by checking for Mycoplasmal antibodies in the blood.  The second test involves a nasal flush with sterile saline and checks for the presence of the bug itself.


Another bright spot is that while Mycoplasma is very communicable horizontally (healthy animals in contact with sick animals either directly or through contaminated water bowls, food dishes, etc.) it does not appear to be passed vertically (through the egg), so as long as strict isolation is enforced hatchlings should be free of this.

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