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January 20, 2010
Dickerson Park Zoo's veterinarian and zookeeper staff have initiated an aggressive course of treatment to proactively help one of the elephants overcome a mycobacterial infection.
The elephant, Ol' C.C., is the zoo's eldest elephant and the fifth oldest elephant living in AZA-accredited zoos. C.C. is among the 15 oldest living elephants listed in the Asian elephant studbook for North America.
As a routine part of caring for the zoo's elephants, the zoo\'s veterinarian, Dr. Erica Wilson, and the elephant staff perform saline "trunk washes" to monitor for active shedding of the various mycobacteria in addition to blood tests monitoring for the bacteria's presence. Annual testing is required by the United States Department of Agriculture at zoos housing elephants. Further testing is done if one or both of these test results indicate the presence of the bacteria for further identification. Lab analysis of samples is conducted by the National Veterinary Services Lab and by Chembio Diagnostic Systems.
"At this time, C.C. shows no symptoms of an active illness, only that at some point in her lifetime she has been exposed to this bacterium," said Dr. Wilson. "We are taking proactive and aggressive action to treat her with a combination of antibiotics to assist her body fight off the bacteria." The antibody reaction, which is indicated by the test results, shows that C.C.'s body is producing antibodies to fight the infection.
Dr. Wilson has consulted with the nation's primary researchers studying tuberculosis in elephants and with USDA officials to determine the most appropriate course of treatment for C.C. Throughout the prescribed nine-month treatment, the zoo's animal care staff will monitor C.C.'s progress through trunk washes and serum analysis. The staff will also monitor her liver function, blood levels and appetite to assess side effects of the medications.
"C.C. and the other elephants are beloved animals for everyone working on the zoo's staff and throughout the community as a whole," said Dr. Wilson. "We treat animals for a variety of conditions all the time. And, we go to great lengths to ensure the best quality care for our animals every day."
The blood test results indicate that C.C. has been exposed to either Mycobacteria bovis or Mycobacteria tuberculosis. The culture results indicate that she is not shedding the bacteria.
Kendra Williams, administrator of community health and epidemiology, for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department issued this statement to reassure the public: "The transmission risk of tuberculosis from the elephant to a member of the public is minimal to non-existent. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that infection following exposure would require close, prolonged exposure in an enclosed environment to the infected individual or animal. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is working closely with Dickerson Park Zoo and its staff to monitor the situation."
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Dickerson Park Zoo is a division of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.