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Saving elephants from deadly herpes virus

HOUSTON – With a small snip of a ceremonial ribbon, the Houston Zoo can now cut down a large delay between life and death for its elephants.

The machine being celebrated is a centrifuge. It separates plasma from blood so tests can be done on site and fast.

The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center made the donation.

"Now we've donated a centrifuge where they have 24/7 access to it," Joshua Buckley, from the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, said.

The issue here is herpes, completely different from the kind humans get.

The elephant version is fatal. It attacks the lining of blood vessels in elephants.

"Sometimes if you get the really pathogenic virus than they could die within 12 to 24 hours," Maryanne Tocidlowski, veteranarian, said.

Timing is everything. Zoo staffers need to draw blood from healthy elephants and extract plasma.

"It has lots of good life-saving proteins and antibodies and things like that in it," Tocidlowski said about plasma.

Today, all the elephants are healthy, but the zoo now knows help is minutes away.

A process that would normally take 12 hours to do -- the new machine can have it done in six minutes.