Evaluation of a multiple-antigen enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in captive elephants

R. Scott Larsen, M. D. Salman, Susan K. Mikota, Ramiro Isaza, Richard J. Montali, Joni Triantis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Mycobacterium tuberculosis has become an important agent of disease in the captive elephant population of the United States, although current detection methods appear to be inadequate for effective disease management. This investigation sought to validate a multiple-antigen enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for screening of M. tuberculosis infection in captive elephants and to document the elephant's serologic response over time using a cross-sectional observational study design. Serum samples were collected from 51 Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and 26 African elephants (Loxodonta africana) from 16 zoos and circuses throughout the United States. Infection status of each animal was determined by mycobacterial culture of trunk washes. Reactivity of each serum sample against six antigens was determined, and the linear combination of antigens that accurately predicted the infection status of the greatest number of animals was determined by discriminant analysis. The resulting classification functions were used to calculate the percentage of animals that were correctly classified (i.e., specificity and sensitivity). Of the 77 elephants sampled, 47 fit the criteria for inclusion in discriminant analysis. Of these, seven Asian elephants were considered infected; 25 Asian elephants and 15 African elephants were considered noninfected. The remaining elephants had been exposed to one or more infected animals. The specificity and sensitivity of the multiple-antigen ELISA were both 100% (91.9-100% and 54.4-100%, respectively) with 95% confidence intervals. Mycobacterium bovis culture filtrate showed the highest individual antigen specificity (95%; 83.0-100%) and sensitivity (100%; 54.4-100%). Serum samples from 34 elephants were analyzed over time by the response to the culture filtrate antigen; four of these elephants were culture positive and had been used to calculate the discriminant function. Limitations such as sample size, compromised ability to ascertain each animal's true infection status, and absence of known-infected African elephants suggest that much additional research needs to be conducted regarding the use of this ELISA. However, the results indicate that this multiple-antigen ELISA would be a valuable screening test for detecting M. tuberculosis infection in elephant herds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-302
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000


  • Elephant
  • Elephas maximus
  • Epidemiology
  • Loxodonta africana
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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