A recently reported outbreak affecting horses in Bahrain has been diagnosed as glanders, a very serious bacterial infection caused by the highly contagious bacterium Burkholderia mallei. So far, it has been reported that 8 horses were euthanized over the past 3 weeks because of the infection.

Bahrain’s cabinet has allocated BD150 000 to fight the outbreak. Authorities have apparently stated that the outbreak can be "easily" managed, "We have sent samples from nearly 400 horses to a specialist laboratory in the UAE and the 10 results we have got so far give us the all-clear. We now know we can manage this quite easily and are taking appropriate action."

That’s a pretty dangerous sentiment to be expressing (and believing) early in an outbreak, but hopefully it’s true. "Easily" and "outbreak" aren’t often uttered in the same sentence, and it’s far from unusual to be fooled by an allegedly contained or controlled outbreak. I’d be very surprised if all of the positive horses have already been identified. Control of glanders involves widespread testing of horses, typically with euthanasia of any infected animals. It sounds like testing is underway and results of this will give a good indication of the extent of the problem. Ten negative samples don’t mean that much to me. As more results come in (and if they continue to be negative), more confidence can be had in the assessment that this outbreak is truly contained.

Glanders is not solely a concern for horses. It’s a zoonotic disease that can cause rare but serious infection in humans, with a high mortality rate (almost 100% if proper treatment is not administered). People can become infected by direct contact with infected horses, with the bacterium gaining entry through skin abrasions, inhalation or contact with tissues of the mouth and nose. Pneumonia, bloodstream infections and other problems can develop. Burkholderia mallei is a Class B bioterrorism agent. Hopefully, people working around infected horses are using appropriate infection control precautions to reduce the risk of infection.

Hopefully, more information will be available soon about this outbreak and results of ongoing testing.

Image: A horse with glanders (Burkholderia mallei infection), exhibiting the characteristic infectious nasal discharge.  Glanders is a reportable disease which has been eradicated from North America, Australia and most of Europe.

This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on equIDblog on 26-Apr-10.