Guide Virus Diseases in Laboratory and Captive Animals

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Zoos provide an unparalleled opportunity for this. The lab works in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and focuses on diagnosing elephants in North America and researching new methods of testing for the various strains of elephant herpes. Its ultimate goal is to prevent future deaths resulting from this devastating disease. Genetics research at the Zoo is also focused on understanding EEHV and the family of genes that helps determine how resistant elephants are to infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and the herpes virus.

To date, scientists have identified 14 genetically different elephant herpesviruses EEHV , most of which are known to cause hemorrhagic disease. The viruses found in symptomatic elephants at different zoos and other institutions are genetically distinct, which means that they are not all the same strain spread by the transfers of elephants between and among zoos. Herpesviruses are widespread in all vertebrate taxa, including humans. While herpesviruses are usually species specific, they can affect closely related species.

EEHV does not pose a health risk to humans, though humans are host to their own strains of herpesviruses. All herpesviruses do share common some features. Once inside a host, the virus can go into a latent hidden phase after causing only mild symptoms or no signs of disease at all. Scientists do not yet know where in the body EEHV resides during the latent phase. For reasons unknown, an elephant herpesvirus can come out of latency and circulate throughout the bloodstream, causing disease.

This is the only time when a herpesvirus can be readily detected in blood samples. Reliable tests are not yet available to detect a latent infection. Most elephants are able to fight the virus and survive when it comes out of latency. There is no true cure for herpesviruses in animals or in humans.

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Based on current knowledge from ongoing research and from elephant care institutions that have experienced EEHV infections, the treatment protocols continue to improve, and detection and treatment recommendations continue to evolve. Current antiviral treatments may suppress EEHV, and elephants can potentially recover if diagnosed and treated early. Of the elephants that have been treated, the success rate with anti-viral therapy against EEHV has been about 40 percent. To date, antiviral drugs have been used successfully in treating nine Asian elephants in North America.

Veterinarians and scientists continue to collaborate to better understand this disease and develop more effective treatment options. EEHV is not just a disease of Asian elephants in human care in western countries. Moreover, these deaths only represent the cases in which necropsies were conducted in sufficient time to detect it. Current research indicates that the elephant-specific herpesvirus may have been in elephant populations for tens of millions of years, just as human herpesviruses have been in human populations.

Since this is a naturally occurring disease, every elephant in the wild and in human care probably carries one or more forms of elephant herpesvirus within them. Many animals and humans carry herpesviruses throughout their lives and never become ill.

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We don't know why some animals become ill and others don't. It's important to understand that it's not about who has the virus, but who gets ill and when.


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When they get the disease does seem to be important; calves who are nursing rarely get EEHV, so maternal antibodies seem to be important in protecting the calf from acute EEHV disease. There is not enough research to confirm how EEHV itself is transmitted, but most viruses are normally spread from one individual to another.

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Viral shedding occurs when it comes out of latency hiding ; however, there is no simple way to detect if the virus is active without a blood test. What we do know is that every elephant—in the wild and in human care—probably carries one or more forms of herpesvirus within them. Like all mammals and humans, elephants carry a variety of different herpesviruses throughout their lives, and the majority of them may never cause illness, likely remaining latent hidden. Some cause mild disease and some cause severe disease or death.

Claims that certain zoos are contaminated once an animal becomes ill from EEHV are unfounded and based on a lack of understanding of how the viruses live within their hosts. Having a herpesvirus is the norm, not the exception. To date there has been no evidence found of shedding of virus into semen or transmission of EEHV through natural breeding or artificial insemination.

Cessation of breeding elephants in human care is not the solution to eliminate EEHV or to ensure the survival of elephants. Infectious diseases, including EEHV, are only one of many threats to the survival of elephants.

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Efforts to save the species cannot be undermined due to fears from a single, potentially manageable problem. Instead, continued studies and research are the tools to better manage the disease, prevent it and control its spread to ensure the continued survival and conservation of elephants. When an outbreak of equine herpes occurred in in horses, the industry did not shut down. Prevention of flight in birds is accomplished by amputating one wing just distal to the radiocarpal joint pinion or less commonly by performing a tenectomy and fusing the radiocarpal joint.

Virus Diseases in Laboratory and Captive Animals

Pinioning of young birds soon after hatching is easier and more successful. The appropriateness of performing this procedure on birds is controversial. See also Routine Grooming Procedures et seq.

Bone fractures are repaired with splints, casts, surgical fixation, or a combination of these methods. Because maintaining a splint on a zoo animal can be difficult, rigid internal fixation or an external fixater are preferable. For best results, fixation should be rigid, strong, and require minimal postoperative care. Because casts must be left in place for 6—8 wk, freedom of movement and a minimum of discomfort must be assured.

Newer lightweight, strong, waterproof, fiberglass casting material is especially useful. Mammalian tuberculosis still occasionally occurs in zoo collections, and routine screening of primates, hoofstock, elephants, and keeper staff is indicated see Tuberculosis and other Mycobacterial Infections. Interpretation of intradermal tuberculin tests can be problematic in nondomestic species because of the occurrence of nonspecific responses.

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Virus diseases in laboratory and captive animals

When a test is suspicious or positive, a complete health evaluation should be performed, including additional tests such as radiographs and gastric and bronchial lavage for mycobacterial cytology and culture. Diagnostic immunologic tests are available for zoo bovids and cervids and include lymphocyte stimulation tests and ELISA. The incidence of elephant-to-human transmission of tuberculosis has increased in recent years. Most cases of tuberculosis in elephants is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis ; however other species, including M bovis , have caused clinical disease in elephants.

Asian elephants are more frequently infected than African elephants. Clinical signs are nonspecific and usually present only in advanced cases; they include chronic weight loss, anorexia, weakness, exercise intolerance, discharge from the trunk, cough, and dyspnea. Definitive diagnosis is by culture.


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Screening by serologic testing, including immunochromatographic lateral flow , multi-antigen print immunoassay, and dual path platform test, are not confirmatory and are not used as definitive regulatory tests. Hoof and nail trims are necessary when overgrowth occurs and are most often required in ruminants, equids, elephants, rhinoceros, and larger carnivores. On occasion, the services of an equine farrier are used for more complicated cases such as when an equid has foundered. Elephant foot care is especially important to prevent chronic musculoskeletal problems and can usually be accomplished in an awake elephant through training.

Many other species require chemical immobilization for foot care. Mandibular osteomyelitis lumpy jaw is a common problem of small ruminants and macropods wallabies and kangaroos. It can occur secondary to coarse feed, oral trauma, or dental disease. Animals generally present with localized facial swelling and a foul oral odor or discharge. Treatment consists of lancing the abscess, debriding infected bone, removing affected teeth if indicated by radiographs, and treating with systemic antibiotics.

Viral Diseases of Nonhuman Primates

Dentistry in zoo animals presents unique problems. The roots of canine teeth in primates and carnivores are more extensive than the exposed crown. A small electric drill or bone chisel is used to remove a section of alveolar bone around the root. Root canals are indicated when a large canine tooth is fractured and viable pulp exposure occurs.