Glanders found among horses carrying pilgrims in northern India


The much-feared disease glanders has been detected among horses, donkeys and mules carrying pilgrims to the holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji in India, a local newspaper has reported.

Large numbers of working animals are used to ferry the pilgrims from Ban Ganga to Bhawan and back.

The Daily Excelsior, the largest daily newspaper serving the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, reports that the bacterial disease was first confirmed last February following tests on several horses, mules and donkeys.

The first cases were said to be among horses brought in by a contractor from Uttar Pradesh.

The board which administers the shrine took measures to isolate and destroy the infected animals.

In all, 1704 blood samples have been taken from animals, with 17 positive for the disease.

The more recent round of testing during August and September, in which 372 blood samples were taken, revealed only one case.

Glanders is a life-threatening, notifiable zoonotic disease which is normally 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.

Signs of glanders 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.

Concerns have also been raised by shrine authorities over the contamination of drinking water by the dung produced by the thousands of working animals who ply the 13km track to the shrine from the nearest town.

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