We do not know if an attack using glanders will ever happen. CDC and other federal agencies prepare for many types of biological attacks, including one using the germs that cause glanders. These plans will help CDC, federal agencies, and health departments protect as many people as possible if an attack occurs.
Why might glanders be used as a weapon?
If people or groups wanted to use germs as a weapon, they might use the germs that causes glanders because they:
- Cause a disease that can make people very sick. Without prompt treatment with specific antibiotics, people sick with glanders can die.
- Cause a disease that is rare and not well-known, which might make it more difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose a person with glanders quickly and accurately.
- Have been used as a biological weapon in the past.
How dangerous is glanders?
Glanders can be a serious disease. Without treatment with specific antibiotics, as many as 9 of every 10 people who get it die. When people with glanders get treatment with the correct antibiotics, up to 5 of 10 people die.
People sick with glanders often need to be hospitalized for treatment. Even after they are well enough to go home, people who have had glanders need to take antibiotics for several months. This long period of treatment makes sure the antibiotics kill all the glanders germs in the person’s body and prevents the disease from coming back.
It can also be difficult to diagnose glanders quickly. The symptoms of glanders are the same as more common diseases like community-acquired pneumonia, the flu, or tuberculosis. Only a few people are diagnosed with glanders each year in the entire world. Because glanders in humans is so rare, most doctors are unfamiliar with the disease.
What might an attack with glanders look like?
A biological attack that releases glanders germs into the air, water, or food supply might put many people at risk for getting sick. For example, if the germs that cause glanders were released into the air in a crowded place, many people might inhale them. Or, if the germs were put into food, people who eat the contaminated food would eat the germs, too. Anyone who comes into contact with these germs is in danger of getting sick with glanders.
It might not be known right away that there had been an attack because you cannot see, smell, or taste the germs. An attack might not be noticed until doctors begin to see many people sick with fevers and respiratory illnesses. Once doctors diagnose patients with glanders, they will work with public health authorities to find out how the patients came into contact with the glanders germs.
Could my pets or livestock get sick with glanders?
Because glanders has been eradicated (eliminated) from the United States since the 1940s, it is extremely unlikely that pets or livestock will get the disease naturally. However, if there were ever a biological attack that released the germs that cause glanders into the air or into an animal’s food or water supply, certain kinds of animals could get sick. Animals that are likely to get glanders after coming into contact with these germs are:
- Livestock and farm animals
- Horses, donkeys, and mules
- Household pets
- Guinea pigs
Of note, cattle, swine, and chickens appear to be resistant to glanders.
If a biological attack with glanders germs ever happens, public health authorities and veterinarians will give more information about what to do if you think your pets or livestock might have glanders.