Glanders is an infectious disease that affects horses, mules or donkeys. It is caused by the bacteria Burkholderia mallei.

Glanders is transmitted to humans by direct contact with infected animals. It is rare for glanders to be spread person-to-person.

The U.S. government considers Burkholderia mallei to be a potential agent for biological warfare and terrorism.


Symptoms of glanders can begin showing a few days to a few weeks after exposure. Your symptoms depend on the location where the bacteria entered your body.

The disease can be severe and lead to death if not treated. Infections can be worse if you have diabetes, alcoholism, liver or kidney problems.

Skin Infections

Within a few days, skin ulcers and abscesses may form at the site where bacteria entered the skin. Swollen glands may occur. Fever, chills, headache, tiredness and muscle aches are common. Infections can be spread to the eyes by rubbing them with contaminated fingers.

Lung Infections

Lung infections cause fever, muscle aches, headache, chest pain and cough. Pneumonia, lung abscesses and fluid around the lungs can interfere with breathing.

Bloodstream Infections

Bloodstream Infections Bacteria can enter the bloodstream from skin and lung infections. Once there, the bacteria can spread throughout the body. This causes a very severe infection that is usually fatal.

Long-term Infections

If treatment is delayed or is not effective, glanders can become a chronic illness. This may involve draining abscesses from within the muscles of the arms and legs and from internal organs.


Humans get this disease after they encounter infected animals. Bacteria can enter the body through breaks in the skin, after being rubbed into a person's eyes or by inhaling bacteria that are in the air.

The most effective way to prevent human illness is to get rid of the diseased animal. You can prevent hospital infections by wearing gloves, masks and eye shields.


Human glanders is rare, and there is little known about which antibiotics are likely to be effective. Health care providers will choose antibiotics that prevent the growth of the specific type of bacteria in a patient.

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