NOVA Online (see text links below)

Glanders in WWI Allied cavalries, such as this Belgian convoy, may have been the target of glanders attacks in World War I.
Agents of Bioterror

incubation period | symptoms | how it would spread | treatment | vaccine

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 glanders.

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.

Incubation period before symptoms
1-14 days

General symptoms:
  • fever and headaches
  • muscle aches, muscle tightness, chest pain
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
  • pneumonia

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.

No vaccine is available.

Anthrax   Botulism   Cholera   Glanders

Plague   Q Fever   Smallpox   Tularemia

Chart of the 8 agents

Photo: Corbis Images

Printer-Friendly Format   Feedback

History of Biowarfare | Future Germ Defenses
Interviews with Biowarriors | Global Guide to Bioweapons | Making Vaccines
Resources | Teacher's Guide | Transcript | Site Map | Bioterror Home

Search | Site Map | Previously Featured | Schedule | Feedback | Teachers | Shop
Join Us/E-Mail | About NOVA | Editor's Picks | Watch NOVAs online | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2001
Shop Teachers Feedback Schedule Previously Featured Site Map Search NOVA Home