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Published On: Sun, Jun 2nd, 2013

‘Rama the Elephant’ being treated for tuberculosis at the Oregon Zoo

Staff at the Oregon Zoo are facing a situation new to them, the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in one of the zoo’s “stars”, according to an Oregon Zoo News June 1.

Rama the Elephant painting Image/Video Screen Shot

Rama the Elephant painting
Image/Video Screen Shot

On Friday, zoo officials learned that Rama, a 30-year-old Asian elephant has tested positive for tuberculosis during routine, annual TB testing as specified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Getting these kinds of results early, before any signs of illness, is beneficial to effective treatment,” said Dr. Mitch Finnegan, the zoo’s lead veterinarian. “That’s why we have health protocols in place to monitor each animal’s well-being. Our elephant-care team has a great rapport with Rama, which will be very helpful throughout the process of treatment. Rama’s prognosis is very good, especially with early detection.”

Finnegan is in closed contact with officials at the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture working on the treatment plan for Rama and ensuring the public safety.

“Behind the Scenes” elephant tours have been suspended and zoo workers are wearing PPE–personal protective equipment.

While the investigation on how Rama contracted the bacterial disease is ongoing, veterinary consultant in elephant medical management, Dr. Dennis Schmitt says, in general, tuberculosis is believed to be contracted only through prolonged exposure to the air-borne bacteria.

The strain, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is the same that is found to cause TB in humans.

According to The Oregon Zoo’s release Saturday, “While not common, TB has been reported in elephants as far back as 1875 and has a history of successful treatment at several North American elephant facilities. The zoo’s veterinary staff will monitor Rama’s progress through trunk cultures and blood tests during his prescribed treatment regimen. No other elephant in the herd has tested positive for TB.”

Oregon health officials say zoo visitors are not at risk. However, zoo officials do acknowledge this human strain of TB could potentially be transferred to humans but only in instances in which there is exposure within close proximity over a long period of time.

In the March 2011 issue of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers report on zoonotic transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from elephants to zoo workers at an elephant refuge in Tennessee.

Rama’s condition poses no significant risk to zoo visitors, according to Dr. Justin Denny, public health officer for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

“Transmission of this disease requires prolonged periods of close contact,” Dr. Denny said. “It’s a good idea to test the keepers and staff who typically spend a lot of time close to Rama, but as far as the general public is concerned, there is nothing to worry about.”

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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  1. Tuberculosis: Oregon Zoo reports 'Shine' is TB positive - Outbreak News Today says:

    […] recent years, the zoo has successfully treated TB in two other elephants, Rama and Tusko, adding to the collective knowledge about diagnostics and care. A third elephant, Packy, […]

  2. Elephant TB transmission to humans at Oregon Zoo – Outbreak News Today says:

    […] June 2013 report on elephant tuberculosis (TB) in “Rama” the 30-year-old Asian elep… at the Oregon Zoo has found it’s way back into the news as a Centers for Disease Control and […]

  3. Elephant TB transmission to humans at Oregon Zoo | Outbreak News Today says:

    […] June 2013 report on elephant tuberculosis (TB) in “Rama” the 30-year-old Asian elephant…at the Oregon Zoo has found it’s way back into the news as a Centers for Disease Control and […]

  4. Answer to yesterdays response to #ElephantSanctuary post | johndwmacdonald says:

    […] And here is a link to an article that just ran today that explains the risk of contracting TB from an elephant. An elephant at the Oregon Zoo was just diagnosed. http://www.theglobaldispatch.com/rama-the-elephant-being-treated-for-tuberculosis-at-the-oregon-zoo-… […]

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