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Equine Protozoa Myeloencephalitis, qPCR - Equigerminal

Equine Protozoa Myeloencephalitis, qPCR

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 Pathogen test 

  • The qPCR test detects the genome (DNA) of Sarcocystis neurona, the pathogen responsible for Equine Protozoa Myeloencephalitis.


  • 2- 5 mL - liquor (CSF)  - in EDTA tube.
  • feces - sterile container 
  • postmortem tissues. 

Turnaround time

  • 2 to 5 working days


What is Equine Protozoa Myeloencephalitis?

  • EPM is progressive, degenerative neurological disease of the central nervous system. 
  • The disease is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurological disorders of horses in the United States.
  • The protozoa does not occur in horse manure, so EPM is not spread between horses. So the horses is considered a dead end host.

Clinical signs

  • Since EPM is a disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and it can affect multiple locations within the brain and spinal cord, the signs and severity of this disease can vary dramatically.
  • Though EPM can affect both the brain and spinal cord, it is more common for the signs of disease to be associated with damage to the spinal cord, but we can and do see insult to the brain. 

We typically refer to the 3 “A”s of this disease: Asymmetry, Ataxia and Atrophy. 

  • Asymmetry is a term we use to describe a symptom that is worse on one side of the body than on the opposite side. In other words, with EPM, the signs are generally worse on the left side than on the right or visa versa. 
  • Ataxia is a term we use to describe incoordination or the inability of the horse to know exactly where its legs are, resulting in inability to move its legs and trunk normally.
  • Atrophy describes a condition where the muscles shrink from their normal size. With EPM, this results from damage to the nerves that normally control or “innervate” these muscles. Muscle atrophy is not seen in all cases of EPM, so it is not as consistent a sign of disease as is the asymmetrical ataxia. 


Life Cycle of Sarcocystis neurona 

  • S. neurona has a complex, two-host life cycle. 
  • The opossum has been identified as a definitive host of S. neurona. The opossum ingests sarcocysts in muscle tissues of scavenged carcasses of intermediate hosts. The parasite undergoes a form of sexual reproduction within the opossum which produces the sporocyst
  • Sporocysts are shed in the feces of the opossum. Sporocysts can survive in the environment for several months.
  • The horse is an aberrant, intermediate host.
  • The horse is exposed by ingesting feed or water contaminated with opossum feces that contain sporocysts.
  • The parasite undergoes a form of asexual reproduction in the horse and eventually gains access to the brain and spinal cord 


  • Horse owners can take advantage of some basic husbandry practices and good common sense to help reduce the risk factors that can contribute to disease incidence. One thing that all of us can do is to keep our feed storage areas neat and clean. Untidy areas with spilled feed invites unwanted guests such as opossums. 
  • Keep your feed in sealed or closed containers.
  • Cover your hay storage area if possible.
  • Keep rodents under control on your property.
  • Discourage visits by opossums.
  • Check with local authorities with respect to trapping and relocating opossums or eliminating them.
  • Properly dispose of any animal carcasses that you may see on or near your property.
  • Clean your equine water sources on a regular basis.
  • Do not feed on the ground.
  • When transporting horses, make them as comfortable as possible. Transportation stress can be a contributing factor for EPM.