Home Tuberculosis Zoo staff test positive for tuberculosis in Tacoma

Zoo staff test positive for tuberculosis in Tacoma

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How does tuberculosis (TB) spread?

Animated video demonstrating the transmission and pathogenesis of tuberculosis (TB).

Animated video demonstrating the transmission and pathogenesis of tuberculosis (TB).

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium leaders are ramping up safety protocols after some staff members who work with and around elephants tested positive for latent tuberculosis infection.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease affecting the lungs, and there is evidence it can be passed from some animals, including elephants, to humans.

Bacteria that cause tuberculosis most commonly are spread from person to person via coughing and sneezing.

“People with latent (tuberculosis) are not sick and cannot infect anyone,” Mathew Rollosson, public health nurse with the health department, said in a press release. “You have to spend a lot of time close to a person or animal with active TB to catch the disease.”

The disease is not contagious when it is in the latent stage, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Officials said Wednesday there is no concern about an outbreak among the public or people who have visited the zoo.

“There truly is no way for anybody to get sick by visiting the elephant enclosure,” Metro Parks spokesperson Hunter George told The News Tribune on Wednesday.

Officials with the health department are supporting an investigation into the disease. They inspected the elephant exhibit area and deemed it safe for visitors.

In the meantime, zoo officials have limited the staff who enter animal areas. Staff also will wear masks and gloves while working with the elephants and have bolstered disinfecting protocols.

Concern surrounding transmission of tuberculosis from elephants to humans surfaced in the 1990s, according to research from Vanderbilt University.

Point Defiance’s two elephants, Hanako and Suki, are not showing symptoms of active tuberculosis, according to the zoo’s head veterinarian. Test results on the elephants are expected to be returned in about eight weeks, according to health department officials.

Allison Needles covers city and education news for The News Tribune in Tacoma. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

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