Glanders outbreak in Nepal kills 16 equines

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A donkey with Glanders showing a nasal discharge.
A donkey with Glanders showing a nasal discharge. © The Donkey Sanctuary

An outbreak of the deadly disease Glanders in Nepal has killed 16 equines, with the illegal movement of animals cited as the cause by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The outbreak began in November 2020 when horses and mules working at brick kilns and ”tanga pullers” were found sick. It was reported to the OIE on May 21. There were 24 reported cases near Lakhimpur in the west and two in the east, near Kathmandu. All of the deaths were in Lakhimpur.

Glanders (Burkholderia mallei) primarily affects horses, donkeys and mules and is a highly infectious and life-threatening disease, which can also be passed to humans.

Support and expertise are being offered to owners in Nepal by the International Coalition of Working Equids (ICWE), whose members have produced practical materials for equine owners, including instructional films which are easily accessible across the country.

Historically, Glanders was a major disease for equids worldwide. Largely eradicated from North America, Australia and Europe, there are still sporadic reports of the disease in several Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and South American countries.

In equids, the disease causes nodules and ulcerations in the respiratory tract and lungs and a skin condition, known as “Farcy”. In humans, the disease can take different forms but recovery is possible if treated quickly with antibiotics.

In order to get information and advice on Glanders to animal owners, ICWE members have produced a series of six short films that have been translated into local languages by Animal Nepal, an in-country NGO supported by the coalition.

The short films of about a minute focus on key biosecurity principles, such as practicing good hygiene and implementing quarantine when necessary. Helpful instructions in the films can easily be adapted for the treatment of other equine illnesses and will be a useful resource for future disease outbreaks.

Animal Nepal, a working partner to The Donkey Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare, distributed the easy-to-view films to stakeholders via its social media platforms, primarily WhatsApp.

Ian Cawsey, ICWE Chair and Director of Advocacy at The Donkey Sanctuary, said the ICWE would build on the resources and provide further support to reach owners, particularly those in remote locations, to improve the lives of their working equids.

“Combining the joint resources and skills of the coalition has enabled us to produce a very exciting set of tools, which give clear information, practical advice and are easily accessible for the owners of working equines,” Cawsey said.

ICWE also organised a hands-on workshop for Animal Nepal in which experts passed on practical advice based on their experience of managing Glanders in the field.

A donkey undergoing a veterinarian check. Largely eradicated from North America, Australia and Europe, there are still sporadic reports of Glanders in several Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and South American countries.
A donkey undergoing a veterinarian check. Largely eradicated from North America, Australia and Europe, there are still sporadic reports of Glanders in several Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and South American countries. © Brooke/Freya Dowson

ICWE is comprised of four working animal non-government organisations (NGOs):  Brooke, The Donkey Sanctuary, SPANA and World Horse Welfare. All four charities work with rural communities around the world, supporting working equids and the people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

ICWE aims to help implement the OIE international Standard for the welfare of working equids, as well as encourage ongoing improvements to the welfare for working equids across the globe. It formed as a coalition to improve communications with the OIE and other international organisations.

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