EQUINE PROTOZOAL MYELOENCEPHALITIS
Understanding This Debilitating Disease
Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a master of disguise. This serious disease can be difficult to diagnose because its signs often mimic other health problems in the horse and signs can range from mild to severe.
More than 50 percent of all horses in the United States may have been exposed to the organism that causes EPM. The causative organism is a protozoal parasite named Sarcocystis neurona. The disease is not transmitted from horse to horse. Rather, the protozoa are spread by the definitive host the opossum. The infective stage of the organism, the sporocysts, are passed in the opossum's feces. The horse comes into contact with the infective sporocysts while grazing or eating contaminated feed or drinking water.
Once ingested, the sporocysts migrate from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream and cross the blood/brain barrier. There they begin to attack the horse's central nervous system. The onset of the disease may be slow or sudden. If left undiagnosed and untreated, EPM can cause devastating and lasting neurological damage.