EPM — equine protozoal meningitis — is an infection of the nervous system caused by a parasite called Sarcocystis neurona. This parasite is carried by opossums and raccoons. So, how might it affect your horse?
Well, if an infected opossum goes to the bathroom on hay and a horse eats it, that horse can become infected. The parasite crawls through the body and gets stuck in the spinal cord or the brain of the horse and causes inflammation and neurologic signs.
What are the symptoms of EPM?
These horses stumble, trip over their own feet, have muscle twitches or lose muscle tone and can be unsafe to ride. If your horse is demonstrating any of these symptoms, a veterinarian appointment is absolutely necessary.
Identifying EPM infection is difficult, as is treatment. The usual way to prove an EPM infection is to get a sample of cerebral spinal fluid, the fluid in the spinal canal that lubricates the spinal cord.
This is not an easy procedure in a horse, and if not done just right can lead to bigger problems like bacterial meningitis. (Meningitis means infection of the tissues around the spinal cord.) The good news is that researchers are improving blood tests to identify positive EPM infection, and these tests are much better than they were 10 years ago.
How is EPM treated?
Some of these same researchers are actively finding different treatments from what has been considered “the standard.” Standard treatments don’t always work, horses have relapses, and some of the treatments can be quite expensive. So, you may wish to consider — or at least investigate — an alternative treatment plan for your horse if he or she is diagnosed with EPM.
In some cases, alternative treatment can be as effective, or even more effective, for the EPM infected horse. These alternative treatments can include: Herbal therapy, nutritional therapy, and acupuncture. All of these can go along way to strengthening the immune system of the horse.
While prevention and avoidance are best, if your horse does becomes infected with EPM, know that there are effective alternative treatments available, not just conventional medicine, that may leave your horse healthier in the long run.