Glanders is an infectious disease that usually affects horses, mules or donkeys. It is caused by the bacteria Burkholderia mallei. Human glanders has been eradicated from the western hemisphere, yet it still occurs occasionally in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central/South America.
The symptoms of glanders depend on the location where the bacteria entered the body. The disease can cause little to no illness, or it can be severe and lead to death. Infections can be worse in persons who have diabetes, alcoholism, liver or kidney problems.
Skin infections : Usually within a few days, skin ulcers and abscesses (large collections or pockets of pus under the skin or in deeper tissues) may form at the site where bacteria entered the skin. Swollen lymph glands may also occur. Fever, chills, headache, tiredness and muscle aches are common. Infections can be spread to the eyes by rubbing them with contaminated fingers.
Pulmonary (lung) infections : Lung infections cause fever, muscle aches, headache, chest pain and cough. Pneumonia, lung abscesses and fluid around the lungs can interfere with breathing.
Bloodstream infections : Bacteria can spread into the bloodstream from skin and lung infections. Once there, the bacteria can be taken throughout the body. This causes a very severe infection that is usually fatal within 7-10 days.
Chronic (long-term) infections : If treatment is delayed or is not effective, glanders can become a chronic illness that may involve draining abscesses from within the muscles of the arms and legs and from internal organs.
After exposure to the glanders bacteria, symptoms can begin as soon as a few days or as long as a few weeks afterward.
Glanders is transmitted to humans by direct contact with infected animals. The last naturally occurring case of glanders in the United States was reported in 1945. In 2000, a laboratory worker in Maryland came down with the disease after experimenting with the bacteria.
Persons usually get this disease after they come into contact with animals that are infected. The bacteria can enter the body through breaks in the skin, after being rubbed into a person's eyes or by inhaling bacteria that are in the air.
Person-to-person spread of glanders is very rare. It has never been reported in the U.S.
The bacteria that causes glanders can be grown in a laboratory from samples of blood, sputum, urine or pus.
Because human glanders is rare, there is little known about which antibiotics are likely to be effective against this disease. Physicians will choose antibiotics that prevent the growth of bacteria that were cultured from patients.
In countries were glanders occurs in animals, getting rid of the animal disease is the most effective way to prevent human illness. Hospital infections can be prevented by wearing gloves, masks and eye shields. There is no vaccine for glanders.
The U.S. government considers Burkholderia mallei, the bacterium that causes glanders, to be a potential agent for biological warfare and of biological terrorism.
Many federal, State, and City agencies-including the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)-have been working together for several years to prepare for the detection and response to a bioterrorist event in New York City. In cooperation with other emergency response agencies, DOHMH has set in place systems that improve our ability to detect and respond to public health emergencies caused by the intentional release of a biological agent.
For more information about glanders, visit the CDC Website
Last updated November 2011