Researchers say the disease, elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, has killed one of five Asian elephant calves born in North American zoos since 2000. It accounts for more than half of all deaths of juvenile elephants in North America, and researchers, working with available tissue samples, estimate that it has killed some 24 elephants since 1983.
Still, the researchers know little about the disease, including how it is transmitted. Nor can they say whether it will remain dormant after its initial assault only to re-emerge, like some herpes viruses in humans.
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The St. Louis case is shaping up as a trove of information. Jade's symptoms have largely subsided, Ms. Fischer said, and she appears to be recovering. Blood tests on the zoo's seven other elephants revealed that another calf, Maliha, carried a very low level of the virus, and researchers say they believe the antiviral drugs she is receiving have stopped its progression.