In mid 1988 a 3-yr-old Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) from a circus in Switzerland died following generalized manifestation of a herpesvirus infection. In an effort to determine prevalence of infection with the herpesvirus, and due to lack of a corresponding virus isolate, it was decided to evaluate contact animals and elephants from a second herd for antibody to bovine herpesvirus 1 (BHV1) and bovine herpesvirus 2 (BHV2). Of 15 sera tested four displayed low neutralizing antibody titers to BHV2. None of the sera neutralized BHV1. However, as evidenced by protein A-mediated immunoprecipitation of metabolically radio-labeled virus-infected and mock-infected cell antigens, followed by separation of precipitation products in SDS-polyacrylamide gels, the 15 sera precipitated multiple antigens from both viruses. Similar results were obtained when using BHV4 antigens. The extent of reaction was most distinct with respect to BHV2 antigens, less prominent with BHV1 antigens, and least with BHV4 antigens. The respective protein patterns, although less marked, matched well with those obtained with bovine reference sera. Additional evaluation of sera from six elephants from two zoos in the Federal Republic of Germany gave essentially identical results. It was concluded that at least one herpesvirus, immunologically related to BHV2, may be widely distributed among captive Asian elephants, and that this virus apparently does not cause overt disease in the majority of animals.
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