Deadly Rare Virus Killed Two Indianapolis Elephants, Another Tested Positive
Two Indianapolis Zoo elephants, Kalina and Nyah, last March both died from a virus known as Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) that causes fatal hemorrhagic disease in elephants, mainly Asian elephants. The zoo staff had been testing the blood of their elephants twice a week for the virus until May 3 which results shows negative on any of the remaining elephants.
Nyah, a 6-year-old female African elephant passed away from the virus on March 19. One week later, an 8-year-old female African elephant at the zoo named Kalina died of the virus. Both were experiencing mild stomach aches and loss of appetite before their deaths.
Until May 6, another round of lab tests was done to all the elephants, one of the elephants tested positive on the same virus that killed the two other elephants. Kedar, a 13-year-old male African elephant was diagnosed immediately to have the said virus and got treated right away on an antiviral treatment.
“Kedar is receiving aggressive treatment to help him fight the virus,” Dr. Rob Shumaker, president of the Indianapolis Zoo, said in a release. ”Our veterinary team has consulted with other experts who have dealt with this dreadful disease, and the best possible care is being provided to Kedar.”
After Kedar’s EEHV diagnosis, the Indianapolis Zoo staff is now conducting daily blood test on all the elephants in the herd. “We are doing absolutely everything in our power, using the most informed medical information available to us,” said Shumaker. “Please keep our Zoo elephants and care staff in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers,” Shumaker added.
It was in 1995, when the virus was discovered after a young Asian elephant, Kumari, died at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Since then, scientists have studied strains of the virus and found them in nearly all elephants, both in the wild and in human care.
14 genetically distinct strains of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus has been identified by the scientists which some of them seems to be harmless but all can lie dormant and undetectable for years. Even if the elephants test positive for the virus, like any other herpesviruses, no symptoms or ill effects were exhibit.
There have been around 27 total elephants deaths from the said virus in Asian elephants and two in African elephants in North America even before the death of the two Indianapolis oo elephants as mentioned by experts to IndyStar.
It is spread through the mucosal secretions, said Paul Ling, associate professor of virology and microbiology at the Baylor College of Medicine. That could include saliva, he said.
Researchers are working to develop a vaccine to improve the virus' survival rate, Ling said.
It is one of the most devastating viral diseases in elephants. Until this day, there is no vaccine for it, and it is not preventable. With 85% mortality rate, it’s definitely a disease that needs more research and attention to develop a cure.