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Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases (DFBMD)

Glanders (Burkholderia mallei)

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is glanders?

Glanders is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia mallei. Glanders is primarily a disease affecting horses, but it also affects donkeys and mules and can be naturally contracted by goats, dogs, and cats. Human infection, although not seen in the United States since 1945, has occurred rarely and sporadically among laboratory workers and those in direct and prolonged contact with infected, domestic animals.

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Why has glanders become a current issue?

Burkholderia mallei is an organism that is associated with infections in laboratory workers because so very few organisms are required to cause disease. The organism has been considered as a potential agent for biological warfare and of biological terrorism.

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How common is glanders?

The United States has not seen any naturally occurring cases since the 1940s. However, it is still commonly seen among domestic animals in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

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How is glanders transmitted and who can get it?

Glanders is transmitted to humans by direct contact with infected animals. The bacteria enter the body through the skin and through mucosal surfaces of the eyes and nose. The sporadic cases have been documented in veterinarians, horse caretakers, and laboratorians.

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What are the symptoms of glanders?

The symptoms of glanders depend upon the route of infection with the organism. The types of infection include localized, pus-forming cutaneous infections, pulmonary infections, bloodstream infections, and chronic suppurative infections of the skin. Generalized symptoms of glanders include fever, muscle aches, chest pain, muscle tightness, and headache. Additional symptoms have included excessive tearing of the eyes, light sensitivity, and diarrhea.

Localized infections: If there is a cut or scratch in the skin, a localized infection with ulceration will develop within 1 to 5 days at the site where the bacteria entered the body. Swollen lymph nodes may also be apparent. Infections involving the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract will cause increased mucus production from the affected sites.

Pulmonary infections: In pulmonary infections, pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, and pleural effusion can occur. Chest X-rays will show localized infection in the lobes of the lungs.

Bloodstream infections: Glanders bloodstream infections are usually fatal within 7 to 10 days.

Chronic infections: The chronic form of glanders involves multiple abscesses within the muscles of the arms and legs or in the spleen or liver.

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Where is glanders usually found?

Geographically, the disease is endemic in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

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How is glanders diagnosed?

The disease is diagnosed in the laboratory by isolating Burkholderia mallei from blood, sputum, urine, or skin lesions. Serologic assays are not available.

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Can glanders spread from person to person?

In addition to animal exposure, cases of human-to-human transmission have been reported. These cases included two suggested cases of sexual transmission and several cases in family members who cared for the patients.

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Is there a way to prevent infection?

There is no vaccine available for glanders. In countries where glanders is endemic in animals, prevention of the disease in humans involves identification and elimination of the infection in the animal population. Within the health care setting, transmission can be prevented by using common blood and body fluid precautions.

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Is there a treatment for glanders?

Because human cases of glanders are rare, there is limited information about antibiotic treatment of the organism in humans. Sulfadiazine has been found to be an effective in experimental animals and in humans. Burkholderia mallei is usually sensitive to tetracyclines, ciprofloxacin, streptomycin, novobiocin, gentamicin, imipenem, ceftrazidime, and the sulfonamides. Resistance to chloramphenicol has been reported.

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Page last modified: March 27, 2008
Content Source: National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases (ZVED)

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