Samson the bull elephant is proving he’s lucky twice.
The 15-year-old African bull elephant at the Maryland Zoo survived a second bout with a strain of the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV6), the zoo said Friday in a statement. And he did it with the help of another elephant at the zoo.
Samson survived a different strain of this same virus (EEHV3b) when he was 5 years old and was the first elephant clinically diagnosed with that strain at the time.
Zoo officials detected the virus on Oct. 10 during routine blood testing done on elephants, the zoo said. The tests were done at the Smithsonian’s National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory, which specializes in testing for the serious infection in Asian and African elephants.
Zoo elephant care and veterinary teams began treating Samson immediately, including a plasma transfusion from another elephant in the zoo’s herd that is believed to have antibodies to this particular strain of the virus.
Since detection, Samson has outwardly shown mostly mild signs of generalized disease, but his bloodwork revealed just how severe the infection became, zoo officials said.
After several weeks of intense treatment, the elephant’s bloodwork shows improved blood cell counts and reduced viral loads, signs that the infection is waning.
“EEHV is a highly fatal disease that progresses rapidly and affects blood vessels throughout the body, causing severe hemorrhagic disease,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation and research at the Maryland Zoo. “That’s why regular blood testing and preparedness are so important.”
EEHV is naturally occurring in both wild elephants and those in human care.
There are currently seven main known strains of this elephant virus, four of which typically affect African elephants, with other strains affecting Asian elephants. The disease in African elephants is less common and less studied.
The strain that infected Samson, EEHV6, has only affected a few African elephants to date.