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Virus killing horses

The virus can be transmitted to humans through contact with the infected animal, reports Satyajit Joshi.

india Updated: Aug 23, 2006 17:44 IST

There's a health warning for all of you planning a trip to Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar or Matheran in the holiday season. Several of the joyride horses at these hill stations have been found infected with a virus that the Japanese army once used as an agent of biological warfare.

The virus, burkholderia mallei, can be transmitted to humans through contact with the infected animal. The disease it causes, glander, isn't known to cause largescale fatalities in humans, but has already killed 10 ponies in the state over the past few weeks.

Nine horses have died in Panchgani and one at Pune. All were used for joyrides. No horses have been reported infected in stud farms or at military barracks.

Animal Husbandry Commissioner Vijay Kumar said horse owners at the hill stations have been alerted, and the department has begun collecting blood samples to determine the extent of the disease's spread. If the virus is proved to have travelled far, wholesale culling of animals might be ordered, Kumar said.

Horse owners at the hill stations are not famous for keeping their animals in the best conditions. The stalls are frequently unhygienic, Kumar said, adding the virus could spread simply because owners were likely to be disinclined to pursue the relatively expensive treatment for glander.

The disease that primarily infects horses and donkeys keeps popping up in human populations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. It gives human patients fever, headaches and chest pain, and can lead on to tuberculosis. It is however, completely curable, Kumar said, and promised the situation was completely under control.