On Friday, a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that seven zoo workers caught tuberculosis from three infested elephants they had in their care. The staff of the Oregon Zoo was infected with a latent form of the disease so they didn’t show any symptoms of tuberculosis and were not contagious.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease, usually caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs, but other parts of the body can be infected too. The disease is spread through the air and most of the time the people don’t have the tuberculosis symptoms, which is called latent tuberculosis. One in ten latent tuberculosis progresses and if it is not treated it can kill more than half of the infected people.
Las year, PETA sued the Department of Health and Human Services because of the statement that elephants could spread diseases to other elephants and to humans as well. This year, PETA required documents regarding the tuberculosis on elephants from CDC. The report done by CDC shows that little is known about tuberculosis when it comes to its manifestation and transmission in elephants. The method used at the present to see if an elephant has tuberculosis is not efficient and in the future, scientists will try to improve the screenings.
The conclusion of the report is that tuberculosis is not transmitted to humans easily, according to Jennifer Vines, who was one of the researchers. Around 5% of the Asian elephants that are held in captivity in North America are believed suffer from tuberculosis. In 1996, the transmission of the disease from elephants to humans has been noticed for the first time. In the last years only few reports of that happening have been registered.
Because of the recent outbreak, the zoo representatives said that more tuberculosis testing will done on the elephants and the employees until June. The first tuberculosis outbreak at the zoo was registered in the spring of 2013. During the annual health check, a 20 year old elephant called Rama was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Packy, Rama’s father who was 51 years old was also diagnosed, as well as a 44 year old elephant that performed for circus, called Tusko.
The cause of the outbreak remains unknown, but at the time CDC speculated that it could have been the fault of a volunteer, who was diagnosed with the respiratory disease in 2012. In that period, no other people were infested.
The seven zoo workers who caught tuberculosis from three infested elephants are reportedly doing fine.
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