What is it?
Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis or EPM is a neurological disease that affects a horse spinal cord and nervous system.
What are the symptoms?
The disease often tends to affect one side or part of the horse more than another. Signs include changes in the horse’s gait or movement. Later symptoms include lameness, weakness, leaning, facial paralysis and seizures.
Where does it come from?
EPM is caused by a protozoal parasite named Sarcocystis neurona that is carried by opossums and possibly birds. The organism is passed in the opossum’s feces.Horses usually contract the disease while grazing or eating contaminated feed or drinking water. Once inside the horse, the protozoan migrates to the spinal cord, causing inflammation and nerve damage. The results can be crippling.
How is it diagnosed?
If your veterinarian suspects EPM, she will order blood and cerebrospinal fluid analysis. A spinal tap will be necessary. The blood test indicates exposure to the parasite but does not predict whether or not the horse will develop the disease. Treatment, however, should begin immediately.
How is it treated?
Early diagnosis and treatment will reduce the damaging effects. If treated quickly and aggressively, 60 to 70 percent of Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis cases show significant or complete reversal of symptoms.
How is it prevented?
EPM is not spread from horse to horse. There are currently no vaccines to immunize animals against protozoal diseases. Good horsekeeping practices that prevent food and water contamination are required.
• Keep rodents, birds and opossums out of your barn.
• Keep grain and feed securely covered.
• Prevent water contamination by keeping supply clean and fresh.
• Feed heat-treated cereal grains and extruded feeds since these processes kill the infective sporocysts.
• Use feeders and clean up any dropped grain immediately to discourage birds and other scavengers.