Zoo Elephant With MRSA Infects Caretakers
CDC Says It's the First Suspected Transmission of MRSA From an Animal to Human Caretakers at a Zoo
March 5, 2009 -- An elephant calf that apparently caught an
antibiotic-resistant staph infection from a San Diego zoo caretaker passed the
infection to more than a dozen other zoo caretakers, the CDC says.
The CDC says the incident marks the first reported case of
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in an elephant and the
first suspected transmission of the bug from an animal to human caretakers at a
The CDC, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, says the calf
got the superbug from a human caretaker. In January 2008, officials found that
three zoo caretakers, along with the calf, had MRSA skin infection, and an
investigation was launched.
The MMWR says the probe identified two additional confirmed cases, 15
suspected cases, and three people who were carriers of MRSA but had no
signs of skin infection; all were caretakers of the animal.
The elephant calf had been separated from its mother and hand-reared by zoo
caretakers about a month after its birth. The calf had other health problems,
and was euthanized on Feb. 4 because treatments for its ailments were not
effective, the CDC says.
The people infected with MRSA all had direct contact with the elephant calf,
or its immediate environment.
Eleven other elephants in the herd, including the calf's mother, tested
negative for MRSA.
Some of the caretakers had fed the calf, others had bathed it or groomed it,
played with it, or given it oral medication.
The MMWR says in an editorial note that MRSA skin infections have become a
substantial community problem in recent years, and have been reported in
animals as well as in people. It's been known that MRSA in people can be of
animal origin, and that the infection can be fatal.
The CDC issued recommendations for preventing MRSA transmission in zoo
- training workers about risks of infection and what they should do to
- performing proper hand hygiene before and after animal contact
- using personal protective equipment when working with ill animals
- cleaning and disinfecting contaminated equipment and surfaces
The CDC says animals aren't a major source of MRSA infections in people.