Elephants turn TB carriers: India plan to wipe out disease by 2025 may be hit


Syed Akbar, Times of India

Date Published

HYDERABAD: India plans to eradicate tuberculosis by 2025, five years before the WHO target of 2030. In fact, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has earmarked enhanced provisions in 2017-18 budget to move towards the target.

However, the target can be realised only if Mycobacterium tuberculosis is controlled both in humans and animals. Elephant is one of the animals that is known to carry the human TB bacterium. That TB has been found in wild elephants too may widen the scope of TB control strategy, according to senior geneticist Dr MN Khaja. TB control focus should include captive and wild pachyderms too.

It is not clear how many wild elephants have been infected by TB as the latest research focussed only on the dead pachyderms. There have been several cases of TB infection passing on to humans from elephants in captivity. Though TB bacterium is also present in cattle and wild animals, it is a different species of the Mycobacterium. The authorities of Nehru Zoological Park are silent on whether or not the elephants in the zoo underwent tests for TB diagnosis.

Lead researcher Dr Arun Zachariah of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, however, said TB in wild elephants will impact the pachyderms more than the humans. “Elephant to human TB transmission is a debate in captivity. But chance of infection from wild animal to human can be negligible,” he added.

Another researcher Dr Susan K Mikota, director of veterinary programmes and research, Elephant Care International, USAsaid TB can be transmitted between elephants and humans.