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UC Davis Finds More Horses at Risk of Neurological Condition

Posted: Oct. 23, 2013, 2:05 p.m. EDT

A study released by the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine revealed that equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) is more widespread than expected.

EPM is linked to two single-celled protozoal parasites. Sarcocystis neurona is shed in opossum feces and is considered the more common cause of the neurological disease in horses.

Symptoms of EPM include ataxia, paresis, obscure lameness, focal muscle atrophy and cranial nerve dysfunction. About 75 percent of horses diagnosed with EPM recover after treatment, though permanent neurologic problems are possible, according to The Merck Veterinary Manual.

 EPM Horse
Horses suffering from equine protozoal myeloencephalitis may display neurologic dysfunction.
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Researchers examining 3,123 diagnostic submissions from 49 states found that horses in 42 states were affected by EPM-causing parasites, the university reported this month.
 
The study, which looked for both Sarcocystis neurona and another parasite, Neospora hughesi, determined that:

• Horses in 24 states tested positive for antibodies against both Neospora hughesi and Sarcocystis neurona.

• Horses in 17 states tested positive for antibodies against only Sarcocystis neurona.

• Horses in Idaho tested positive for antibodies against only Neospora hughesi.

"This study returned positive results from more states than we originally thought,” said the study’s lead researcher, Nicola Pusterla, DrMedVeT, MedVet, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM.

The wider distribution of the parasites means horse owners and practitioners should test EPM-suspect horses for both types.

"As the recognized geographic spread of Neospora hughesi infections expands, we are encouraging horse owners about the benefits of the advanced tests available at UC Davis to more accurately diagnose the disease,” Dr. Pusterla added.

The university’s SarcoFluor and NeoFluor kits are immunofluorescent antibody tests for both causative agents of EPM. The tests also reduce the need to obtain cerebrospinal fluid, which may be screened for antibodies against the two protozoal agents.

While EPM prevention is difficult, The Merck Veterinary Manuel suggests "reducing access of opossums to horses, feed and water.”

 EPM map
A map reveals the distribution of horses with antibodies against EPM-causing parasites. Green shows the presence of antibodies for both Sarcocystis neurona and Neospora hughesi, yellow denotes only Sarcocystis neurona and blue indicates Neospora hughesi.
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine


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