Deadly Equine Glanders Disease Outbreak at Rio Olympic Stables
 By Winniefield Park   •   14th Aug 2015   •   2,214 views   •   0 comments
Deadly Equine Glanders Disease Outbreak at Rio Olympic Stables

There are a few horse diseases I think of as being ‘old fashioned’ because you just don’t hear about horses getting them any more. So, I was surprised to learn that a deadly disease called Glanders, one of the oldest recognized diseases, is responsible for creating concern near the Rio Olympic stabling just as riders prepare to test the complex to be used during next year’s summer games. So far seventeen horses have been diagnosed, with one euthanized.

Two of the horses with Glanders were kept at a stable housing nearly 600 horses. All horses are being tested for the disease and are under quarantine with strict biosecurity measures in place. Because some of the horses within this stable have recently traveled to another, another 300 horses at the other stable are being tested and quarantined.

I might have thought Glanders is old fashioned, but clearly it’s still causing a lot of problems. And, it doesn’t just affect horses. Humans, small livestocks, dogs and cats can get it, although it most commonly occurs in horses and their close relatives. The name comes from the word ‘glands’ because that is what it infects. It’s been eradicated from North America, Australia and much of Europe, which is probably why I think of it as a disease of the past, like smallpox or tuberculosis. It has not been reported in the US since the mid-1950s. This is thanks to rigorous surveillance. But, it’s still a problem in South America, and parts of Asia and Africa.

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Caused by a bacteria called Burkholderia mallei, Glanders can be contracted by consuming infected water or food, and it can be transferred through the mucous membranes, open skin sores or by inhaling the bacteria. Like many bacterial and viral diseases, you can understand how, in the close quarters of a city stable, Glanders could spread easily. The bacteria can persist on buckets, feeders and equipment in the right conditions for months. Because it’s zoonotic, more than just the horses can be affected. In fact, it’s so virulent that it could be used in biological warfare, like anthrax.

There are four forms of the disease, depending on how the bacteria enters the body. But basically, lesions form in the respiratory tract, the lymph nodes swell and swelling can occur in the mucous membranes, including the eyes. Along with a cough will be severe fever, nasal discharge, muscle soreness and other things you’d associate with a bacterial infection. If the horse has a cut where the bacteria entered, there may be unusually severe swelling in that location. Eventually, septicemia will cause the whole body to become inflamed as it tries to fight the infection. Ulcers can form anywhere in the body, and if the infection goes into the bloodstream, it is fatal within a few days.

The treatment includes antibiotics although these are often not totally effective. Another complication is that some horses can survive the disease, but remain carriers of the bacteria. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against Glanders.

For now, Rio Olympic officials are claiming that there is no risk to participants of the test events. All animals with symptoms have been removed from the vicinity, and testing for new outbreaks is ongoing. Even the FEI has made a statement that they feel everything is being done correctly. Let’s hope we’ve heard the last of this.

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