Systemic infections with elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV) cause a rapid onset acute hemorrhagic disease with an 85% mortality rate. More than 60 cases have been confirmed worldwide occurring predominantly in juvenile Asian elephants. Originally, three virus types EEHV1A, EEHV1B and EEHV2 were identified, all members of the Proboscivirus genus within the Betaherpesvirinae. However, four elephant gammaherpesviruses (EGHV) have also been found by DNA PCR approaches in eye and genital secretions of asymptomatic animals, and two more versions of the probosciviruses, EEHV3 and EEHV4, were recently detected in acute hemorrhagic disease cases. To ask whether even more species of elephant herpesviruses may exist, we have developed several new diagnostic DNA PCR assays using multiple round primers in the DNA POL region. These have been used routinely for nearly three years to screen samples submitted to the Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory for diagnosis of possible cases of EEHV disease in blood and necropsy tissue, as well as in biopsies of other suspicious lesions or growths. Several more cases of EEHV1-associated hemorrhagic disease were confirmed, but in addition, we describe here eleven examples of other known and novel herpesviruses detected and evaluated with these reagents. They include the prototypes of four new elephant herpesviruses, two more within the proboscivirus group EEHV5 and EEHV6, plus two more gammaherpesviruses EGHV3B and EGHV5. We also report initial semi-quantitative PCR assays demonstrating very high viral loads in the blood of the EEHV3 and EEHV4-associated hemorrhagic disease cases.
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