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The Wisdom of the Crowd

1Recently we quizzed horse owners about their interest in equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. Eighty-three percent of horse owners look to their veterinarian first for information about EPM! Ninety-seven percent knew that EPM was caused by a protozoa and 92% knew the opossum transmits the disease to horses. Eighty-five percent thought the infection was treatable and 10% felt the disease was very difficult to treat.  An accurate diagnosis only rated with 33% of owners.  There are a couple of areas veterinarians have some work to do, for example 13% of owners think that vitamin E will treat EPM and 7% think vitamin C is involved.  The majority of owners recognize the importance of inflammation in disease.

Veterinarians learned the basics about sarcocystosis in school.  And as they developed the art of practicing veterinary medicine they found new information provided by drug companies that paid for the, research.  The resulting  papers described aspects of infections.  Most papers concentrated on antibody detected following infections.  The disease syndrome (infection plus inflammation) wasn’t explored because horses didn’t develop EPM from the induced infections.  Information was dispersed at continuing education meetings and peer reviewed reports.  Controlled studies using horses are useful however, these studies are limited by expense and the interests of those funding the investigations.

Published field case reports provide an overview of disease pathologies interpreted through the lens of academia because these reports describe particularly difficult cases referred to a university. Typically, horses suspected of EPM are seen by veterinarians and these cases are not referred.  A veterinarian may form opinions referenced on just a handful of cases.

We offer consulting to veterinarians.  Our reference comes from statistical data from thousands of cases of suspected sarcocystosis seen by veterinarians across the country.  Our statistician evaluates the data we provide and renders an opinion.  Some things are obvious.  Some things we think are true, but he tells us our data is biased by the samples we get.  It is unlikely that veterinarians send us samples on horses without suspect EPM.  We are able to condense the information and tailor it to each case.  And just in case a vet is too busy, if a case starts to drop through the cracks we send an email with suggestions.  As we discover new areas of interest we will test samples and we provide that information back to the veterinarian, just in case it will make a difference.  The power in our observations are the data base.  We make the single field case relevant to statistical data from the crowd.

Pretty soon we will resend a survey out to veterinarians.  It is designed to gather data that we will forward to our statistician.  Our goal is to define some unusual presentations of neurological disease and determine the prevalence of those diseases.  When we are ready, we’ll give you the heads up so you can fill out the survey for us.  And we will also ask horse owners to prod their veterinarians to complete the survey.  Numbers are important because the decision to produce new treatments is based on need.  Common disease are interesting to large pharmaceutical companies.  Rare diseases rely on grass roots companies.  Micro companies work on rare diseases because there is a need and there is a wealth of information to be exposed. We have inquiring minds.  And when something is obvious to us we begin to let you know.  And here is where we start, a survey. Thank-you in advance.