Bronchoalveolar lavage for diagnosis of tuberculosis infection in elephants
Tuberculosis (TB) has been known to affect elephants for thousands of years. It was put into spotlight when few circus elephants were diagnosed carrying Mycobacterium (M.) tuberculosis. Because of the zoonotic risk and high susceptibility to M. tuberculosis, periodic testing was enacted since, in captive breeding programmes. Presently, trunk wash is the recommended diagnostic procedure for TB. Trunk wash, however, puts the operator at risk, has low sensitivity, and is prone to contamination. Here, bronchoalveolar lavage is described for the first time for TB diagnosis in elephants. Bronchial, trunk and mouth fluids were investigated using bacterial culture, M. tuberculosis complex (MTC)-specific real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) and mycobacterial genus-specific qPCR for overall presence of mycobacteria or mycobacterial DNA including bacteria or DNA of closely related genera, respectively, in 14 elephants. Neither bacteria of the MTC nor their DNA were identified in any of the elephants. Yet, 25% of the cultures grew non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) or closely related bacterial species. Furthermore, 85% of the samples contained DNA of NTM or closely related bacterial genera. This finding might explain continued false-positive results from various serological tests. From a zoonotic point of view, bronchoalveolar lavage is safer for the testing personal, has higher probability of capturing MTC and, through PCR, identifies DNA NTM in elephants. Yet, necessary endoscopic equipment, animal sedation and access to a TB reference laboratory might pose challenging requirements in remote conditions in some elephant range countries.