Trainer Cited in TB Case: Employees
May Have Contracted it from Elephants
By Jon Yates
Tribune staff reporter
September 26, 2003
Federal officials have cited
a McHenry County animal trainer for failing to protect his employees
amid fears that some may have contracted tuberculosis from infected
In citations issued last
week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration charged John
Cuneo's business, Hawthorn Corp., with failing to provide workers with
protective clothing, failing to label a barn in which an infected elephant
is housed, and failing to provide a sufficient medical monitoring program.
Charles Shields, area director
for the OSHA office in North Aurora, said the citations were issued
after some Hawthorn employees tested positive for TB.
Shields said the tests do
not necessarily mean the employees contracted tuberculosis from the
elephants, but rather that they were exposed to the disease at some
point in their lives.
None of the employees is
considered contagious, Shields said, but officials are worried that
other employees could be at risk.
"What we're concerned about is tuberculosis transmission, in this
case from elephants to humans," Shields said.
Federal officials have been watching Hawthorn since 1996, when two of
its elephants died of tuberculosis. Cuneo agreed to a $60,000 fine and
a 45-day license suspension after the U.S. Department of Agriculture
investigated animal cruelty charges in that case.
In the most recent case,
OSHA wants Cuneo to correct the problems and pay a fine of $37,100.
Cuneo says the citations
are the result of an ongoing campaign of misinformation by animal rights
"We're getting sick
of it. It's a witch hunt," Cuneo said. "It gets very tiresome.
We have very good people."
Earlier this year, the USDA
cited Hawthorn with 47 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, for everything
from failing to cut elephants' toenails to improperly treating an elephant
who was suffering from severe chemical burns. In that case, USDA officials
are seeking to revoke Cuneo's license. No court date has been set.
Cuneo, who has run his business
out of Richmond, Ill., for more than 45 years, said he will meet with
OHSA officials Oct. 1 to discuss the most recent citations.
He believes some of his employees
have tested positive for TB because they received tuberculosis vaccinations
when they were younger. He also said there is no history of tuberculosis
being transmitted from elephants to humans.
"We're talking manufactured
trouble," Cuneo said. "It's a political thing."
Craig Conover, medical director
of the Division of Infectious Disease for the Illinois Department of
Public Health, said it is often difficult to determine when or where
a person contracted TB. While people can test positive for tuberculosis
after simply receiving a vaccination, Conover said it is uncommon.
Conover said there is some
evidence tuberculosis can spread from elephants to humans, most likely
the same way it spreads among humans--through close physical contact.
Generally, he said, the disease is spread through the air, such as in