Authorities allay glanders fears ahead of Rio Olympic equestrian test event

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© Rio 2016
© Rio 2016

The FEI says it is confident that everything is being handled correctly in Brazil on the eve of the Rio Olympic equestrian test event, following evidence of the feared disease glanders near the venue in recent months.

Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) has been monitoring the situation since April, when a horse tested positive for the deadly disease.

“MAPA has confirmed to the FEI that there is no threat to the test event nor to the horses that will compete,” FEI president Ingmar De Vos said.

“We are confident that everything is being handled correctly and that Rio 2016 will run a successful Olympic equestrian test event.”

Horsetalk has been told that MAPA became involved in April when a police horse from the city of Vitoria, in the state of Espirito Santo, 541 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro, was diagnosed with glanders.

In November 2014, this horse had left Brazil’s National Equestrian Centre in Deodoro, the venue for the Olympic equestrian events that is also used daily by the Army Equestrian School. The horse had previously tested negative to glanders three times.

As the Espirito Santo horse had been in the Deodoro army stables six months previously, the State of Rio de Janeiro Agriculture Department tested all 141 horses that had also been resident in the stables as a precaution.

During this surveillance programme, one horse tested positive to glanders at the end of June, despite displaying no clinical signs of the disease.

Test results from a second horse were inconclusive.

Both these horses were immediately isolated and removed to a MAPA quarantine facility in the state of Sao Paolo, 684km from Rio de Janeiro.

Again, as a precaution, all army horses in Deodoro are undergoing further testing and samples are being sent to both a laboratory in Brazil and the reference laboratory in Germany run by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

No clinical signs of glanders have been observed at any time in any of the horses that previously occupied the Deodoro equestrian venue or in horses from the army stables.

MAPA is understood to have assured organisers that there is no threat to the equestrian test event, which begins on August 6, nor to the horses that will compete.

A check by Horsetalk has failed to find any formal report from Brazilian authorities in respect of glanders to the OIE, although it has been reported that the organisation received some form of informal notification late in May.

Brazil’s government is expected to report on the situation in its six-monthly update, which is due to be filed shortly with the OIE.

Officials in Brazil have instituted a range of biosecurity measures ahead of the Olympics.  The Deodoro Olympic venue, Rio de Janeiro Airport and the corridor in between have been set up as a separate biosecurity region to minimise the disease risk to horses.

The zone is designed to allow the safe passage of horses to the Games venue and then back to their countries of origin.

Implementation of this zone involved the removal of all horses from the Deodoro venue 180 days before the upcoming test event.  It has been horse-free since February.

It is understood that a session is scheduled for August 7, at which national Olympic committees and national equestrian federations will be updated on the glanders situation by a representative of MAPA.

Glanders is a life-threatening, notifiable zoonotic disease which can be fatal to both animals and humans. It is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia mallei.

Due to its high mortality rate and the small number of organisms needed to establish infection, it is regarded as a potential biological warfare or bioterrorism agent.

It is highly infectious and can be transmitted by aerosol, causing invasive fatal disease in combination with resistance to multiple antibiotics.

A horse with cutaneous nodules of glanders on the legs.
A horse with cutaneous nodules of glanders on the legs. © University of Zagreb

The only known reservoirs of B. mallei are single-hooved animals, particularly horses. Chronically infected horses can be asymptomatic but may remain highly infectious.

Although glanders has been eradicated from many Western countries, it recently re-emerged in Asia, the Middle-East, Africa, and South America.

Last September, researchers sounded a warning that the global horse trade from at-risk regions had the potential to re-establish the disease in countries that had previously eradicated it.

Glanders is highly contagious. Signs include lung lesions and ulceration of mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. The acute form results in coughing and fever, followed by septicaemia and death within days. In chronic cases, nodules form on the skin and in the nasal passages, eventually ulcerating. Death can result within months, with those surviving acting as carriers.

There is no vaccine. Prevention and control depend on early detection and the elimination of affected animals, as well as complete quarantine.

Glanders was once prevalent worldwide, but has been eradicated or effectively controlled in many countries.

The last naturally occurring equine case in the US was in 1942.

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