One of Taronga Zoo’s elephants, Pak Boon, has been diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) despite extensive pre-screening of all the elephants before coming to Australia. Testing has continued after the arrival with negative results however Pak Boon’s infection must have been dormant and undetectable using current screening methods.
TB is a relatively common infection in humans and is now being shown to occur in elephants as well. Treatment involves a combination of drugs over an extended period that kills the bacteria. The Zoo’s veterinary team is able to provide great care and treatment immediately.
The other elephants have been regularly tested and none are infected. Immediately after the diagnosis, the course of treatment for Pak Boon was begun and, even though TB is not a highly contagious disease, precautions were put in place to protect staff and visitors.
There is no risk to Zoo visitors of contracting TB as more than simple casual contact is required to be at any risk of infection. The organism that is the source of the infection has been confirmed as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is treated with a range of medications and Pak Boon’s treatment commenced immediately the diagnosis was confirmed.
One third of the world's population is thought to be infected with tuberculosis. The proportion of people who become sick with TB each year is stable or falling worldwide but, because of population growth, the absolute number of new cases is still increasing. The distribution of TB is not uniform across the globe, but about 80% of the population in many Asian and African countries test positive in tuberculin tests.