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Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) to a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and humans in an Australian zoo

  • N. STEPHENS (a1) (a2), L. VOGELNEST (a3), C. LOWBRIDGE (a1), A. CHRISTENSEN (a1), G. B. MARKS (a4), V. SINTCHENKO (a5) (a6) and J. McANULTY (a1)...

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is primarily a pathogen of humans. Infections have been reported in animal species and it is emerging as a significant disease of elephants in the care of humans. With the close association between humans and animals, transmission can occur. In November 2010, a clinically healthy Asian elephant in an Australian zoo was found to be shedding M. tuberculosis; in September 2011, a sick chimpanzee at the same zoo was diagnosed with tuberculosis caused by an indistinguishable strain of M. tuberculosis. Investigations included staff and animal screening. Four staff had tuberculin skin test conversions associated with spending at least 10 hours within the elephant enclosure; none had disease. Six chimpanzees had suspected infection. A pathway of transmission between the animals could not be confirmed. Tuberculosis in an elephant can be transmissible to people in close contact and to other animals more remotely. The mechanism for transmission from elephants requires further investigation.

Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence: N. Stephens, GPO Box 4541, Melbourne, Australia3000. (Email:
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