Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuberculosis at the Zoo

Happy 52nd birthday to Packy, the oldest Asian elephant in North America. The celebration was held at the Oregon Zoo on 14 Apr 2014. The 40 lb cake that Packy enjoyed was made with whole wheat, fruits, vegetables, and about four pounds of butter.
Packy the elephant on his first birthday at the Oregon Zoo on April 14, 1963. Photo by Christina Christensen, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo
More importantly, for our purposes, it was announced by the zoo that Packy is currently battling latent tuberculosis (TB), which was discovered in July 2013.

Packy, and one of his sons, Rama, were diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2013. Rama responded well to the treatment, however Packy has struggled with the treatment. Similar to humans, the effects of the TB drugs vary from patient to patient, and Packy seems to be more sensitive to the cocktail.

The Oregon Zoo tests its elephants for TB yearly. Rama was diagnosed in May of 2013 at the age of 30. The illness was announced promptly by the zoo and employees working closely with Rama took precautions and isolated the elephant.

If you have questions, use the comments section below!

The treatment for TB in elephants lasts more than a year. The quantity of drugs required is massive, considering the size and weight of the animals. The same drugs are used for both humans and elephants. Neither Packy or Rama has any signs of illness, what the zoo is trying to control is the asymptomatic shedding of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria.

January of 2013 some zoo employees were reported as having tested positive for TB and undergoing treatment.

Previously, in 2009 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported on a similar scenario that occurred among humans working as employees of an elephant refuge in Tennessee.

Tuberculosis is a common zoonotic disease. Elephants and elephant handlers, bovine TB in humans, etc. The treatment for TB in elephants is through oral medication for at least a year, and it costs between 5,000 and 50,000 USD.

Keep Packy in mind. Hope the treatment takes!

I encourage everyone to use the comments section below! 

  • Lance D. Presser has a PhD in microbiology and immunology and is a public health laboratorian.
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