Biosecurity Considerations for Reducing EPM Risk

EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis) is a moderately common neurological disease. In the late 1980’s the parasitic organism was identified as Sarcocystis neurona and an antibody test was developed.  Sarcoscystis falcutula has also been identified as potential cause of the condition and is less common.

Sarocystis neurona is now known to be present throughout the Western Hemisphere. The opossum has been determined to be a host within the cycle, with birds acting as intermediaries for the parasite. The incubation period for the disease is still unknown.

EPM affects different neurons throughout the neurological system and can result in dragging or spastic gaits. One side of the body may be affected, but not the other. If it affects the cranial nerves, the horse may have problems eating or drinking, have facial twisting, or undergo changes in the position of the eyes and ears.

Severely affected horses may become recumbent and have seizures.

Diagnosis of EPM is based upon finding antibodies or a DNA detection test from either blood or cerebrospinal fluid.  There are still some challenges with accurate diagnosis.

A vaccine was developed, but has not been verified as effective at last report.

Biosecurity and Feed Security

It is very important to reduce the risk of horses consuming forage, water or feed that has been contaminated by opossums or any animals that may have consumed opossums.

Forage should be stored as securely as possible to minimize risk of contamination by fecal material and feeding management should be designed to reduce risk of contamination by opossums.

Pelleting and processing feed reduces/eliminates the risk of EPM transmission in feed or supplements. The feed should be securely stored in covered containers to prevent contamination on farm as contamination on the farm is a real risk.

To the degree possible, water sources should also be secure.  A challenge with natural water sources!

Avoid having cat food or other food sources that attract opossums in the barn and stable areas.

Good biosecurity and sanitation are keys in reducing the risk of EPM for horses.

Ask the Expert: Diseases at Horse Events? Help!

Question:
I have seen posts all over social media about horses getting sick after attending competition events. How can I protect my horse?

Answer:
It is critical to practice biosecurity measures. If you breakdown the word biosecurity, bio means “life” and security means “protection”. Life protection!
Another way to define biosecurity is to prevent or reduce the introduction of disease. In other words, you want to keep the disease away from your farm, or if you do have a sickness, keep it from spreading.

Biosecurity measures to practice include:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to ensure horses are current with recommended vaccines.
  2. Keep sick horses at home. Watch for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.
  3. Wash your hands frequently!
  4. Clean and disinfect stalls at fairgrounds and show facilities. Spray-on commercial disinfectants are readily available. Diluted bleach (8 ounces bleach to 1 gallon of water) is an inexpensive disinfectant; it works best on a surface that has been thoroughly cleaned.
  5. Do not share feed and water buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack, or manure forks. Disinfect these items after arriving home from an event.
  6. Limit exposure. Do not allow horses to have nose to nose contact. Limit the general public’s contact with your horses and your contact with other horses.
    Upon returning home from a show, wash your hands, shower, and change clothing and shoes before working with horses kept at home.
  7. Isolate returning horses from resident horses for 14 days. Monitor horses daily for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Written by Abby Neu, MS, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Biosecurity Tips for Show Season

As we enter into horse show season and County Fairs, it is critical to practice biosecurity measures, including:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to ensure horses are current with recommended vaccines.
  2. Keep sick horses at home. Watch for signs of fever, nasal discharge and diarrhea.
  3. Wash your hands frequently!  Bring water, soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towels with you.
  4. Clean and disinfect stalls, especially built-in feeders, at show facilities. Spray-on commercial disinfectants are readily available. Diluted bleach (8 ounces bleach to 1 gallon of water) is an inexpensive disinfectant; it works best on a surface that has been thoroughly cleaned.
  5. Do not share feed and water buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack, or manure forks.
  6. Limit exposure. Do not allow horses to have nose to nose contact. Limit the general public’s contact with your horses.
  7. Upon returning home from a show, wash your hands, shower, and change clothing and shoes before working with horses kept at home.
  8. Isolate returning horses from resident horses for 14 days. Monitor horses daily for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Photo credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota