Glanders is a contagious, short- or longterm, usually fatal disease of the horse family caused by the bacterium Burkholderia mallei. The disease is characterized by the development of ulcerating growths that are most commonly found in the upper respiratory tract, lungs, and skin. Humans and other animals are also susceptible, and infections are usually fatal. Glanders once was prevalent worldwide. It has now been eradicated or effectively controlled in many countries, including the United States. In recent years, the disease has been reported in Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, China, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates.
The disease is commonly contracted by consuming food or water contaminated by the nasal discharge of carrier animals. The organism can survive in a contaminated area for more than 1 year, particularly under humid, wet conditions.
After an incubation period of up to 2 weeks, affected animals usually have blood infection and a high fever (up to 106°F [41°C]). Later, a thick nasal discharge is seen and the animal has trouble breathing and other respiratory signs. Death can occur within a few days. The longterm form of the disease is common in horses. It is a debilitating condition with ulcers and growths on the skin and in the nose. Infected animals may live for years and spread the bacteria widely. The outlook is unfavorable. Recovered animals may not develop immunity.
In the skin form (also called farcy), growths appear along the course of the lymph vessels, particularly on the legs. These growths degenerate and form ulcers that discharge highly infectious, sticky pus.
Typical signs raise suspicion for this disease, but culture of the organisms is needed for confirmation. There is no vaccine. Prevention and control depend on early detection and elimination of affected animals, as well as complete quarantine and rigorous disinfection of the area involved. Euthanasia is usually recommended for affected horses.
Also see our professional content regarding glanders.