Glanders is a disease of equines (horses, donkeys and mules), but it is transmissible to fellow animals and humans. Due to international interest and concern for this disease, the World Organisation for Animal Health recommends immediate reporting of the disease to the international authorities.

In case of an outbreak, international movement of horses will be banned. The disease is caused by Burkholderia mallei, a highly contagious bacterium, which has been used as a bio-weapon by Germans to infect the military horses used for transportation during the World War I.

Similarly, Russia used this agent against Afghan Mujahideen to kill their horses and to infect them, thereby breaking the supply of ammunition in the mountains. Due to a very low infective dose and lack of effective vaccine and treatment, working with this infection requires special bio-safety measures all around the globe. The infection is clinically manifested as pneumonia and ulcers in the respiratory organs and skin. Chronically ill animals may experience pneumonia and labored respiration, characteristic dark, honey-like pus discharge through the skin. The disease has been reported in South America, especially in Brazil and Asia, including countries such as China, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

This disease has regained the status of a re-emerging disease as recent cases have been reported in Ethiopia, Bahrain and Germany. Through national control programmes, including screening and destruction of infected animals, its prevalence has been significantly curtailed in most countries of the world. Humans, working with horses (lab workers, veterinarians and horse caretakers) are at the highest risk of getting the infection, causing fever, sweating and head and chest pain. Some forms of disease are usually fatal if lest unnoticed.

Working horses, mules and donkeys are key players in livelihood and food security in rural and urban areas of developing countries with agriculture-based economy. Horses owned by poor families are breadwinners for the families and are used for goods transport, show purposes in festivals, sports and for labour at brick kilns. So, poor people already having limited health facilities and awareness about the disease are at the highest risk of being the victims, which fuel the fire of their miseries. Low compensation costs, poor hygienic conditions, stress, sharing of grooming equipment and communal drinking / grazing areas have been considered risk factors for transmission and persistence of infection. Pakistan is endemic with glanders and several outbreaks have been reported in the past. A recent national level research funded by Defense Threat Reduction Agency, The Pennsylvania State University, USA and University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore, revealed that three in hundred working horses are harbouring the infection. Presence of this organism in soil has imparted even more threats to public health . The high prevalence of disease in draught horses and contact of infected animals with their caretakers in developing countries signify need to initiate progressive control of the disease using one health approach. Another recommendation to control this disease in the country is to increase the compensation cost, which is ridiculously low.

Writer is a PhD scholar at University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore