Burkholderia ( B. mallei and B. pseudomallei )

Authored by: Dongyou Liu , Shifeng Hu , Chong Yin

Manual of Security Sensitive Microbes and Toxins

Print publication date:  April  2014
Online publication date:  April  2014

Print ISBN: 9781466553965
eBook ISBN: 9781466553989
Adobe ISBN:


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The genus Burkholderia consists of >60 Gram-negative β-proteobacterial species that are ubiquitously distributed in various environments such as water, sewage, soil, and plants. Among them, Burkholderia cepacia complex (BCC), Burkholderia gladioli, Burkholderia mallei, and Burkholderia pseudomallei are of clinical importance. In particular, B. mallei and B. pseudomallei, which cause glanders and melioidosis, respectively, and have a history of being on the list of potential biological warfare agents, demonstrate high infectivity, low lethal dosage, easy aerosolization, resistance to commonly used antibiotics, and lack of effective vaccines. Indeed, B. mallei causing glanders was intentionally released by German agents to infect animals and humans in the allied and nonaligned countries in the 1910s (World War I). The bacterium was also used by the Japanese biological warfare research unit 731 to deliberately infect horses, civilians, and prisoners of war and test its effectiveness in contaminating water supplies in the 1940s (World War II). In addition, the Russian army might have employed B. mallei during their Afghanistan war in the 1980s [1]. The melioidosis-causing B. pseudomallei, from which B. mallei has evolved, has the potential to be developed as a biological weapon [2,3]. As both B. mallei and B. pseudomallei are classified as Category B biological agents by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States, this chapter will focus on these two species, reviewing their classification, morphology, biology, epidemiology, clinical features, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

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