Glanders is a disease that primarily affects horses, mules, and donkeys. In
World War I, German forces reportedly spread glanders to debilitate enemy
cavalries. But the bacteria that causes glanders, Burkholderia mallei,
can also infect humans.
Glanders is a likely candidate for biological warfare and bioterrorism,
in part, because only a few germs of B. mallei can trigger disease.
It also is known to have been developed by various bioweapons programs.
In a single year in
the 1980s, the Soviet Union produced more than 2,000 tons of dry agent for
The bacteria can enter the body through cuts in the skin or the membranes of
the eyes and nose. The bacteria can also be inhaled, and as an aerosol glanders
would be a deadly weapon.
Other symptoms vary according to how the organism enters the body—through
the skin, eyes, nose, or respiratory tract—but include:
pustular lesions that develop 1-5 days after bacteria enter breaks in the skin
swollen lymph nodes
tearing of the eyes, light sensitivity
increased mucus in the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract
How it would be spread
Aerosol. Human-to-human transmission is possible, but the disease is not
considered highly contagious.
A variety of antibiotics can be used. However, even when treated, the disease
has had a high mortality rate (roughly 50%) in the few documented cases of
human glanders. Treatment protocols are not well understood because the disease
is so rare.