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The future is (almost) here – the technological revolution in faecal egg counting we have been waiting for!

    …. but don’t get your credit card out to purchase it just yet.

Anyone who has attended my workshops or seminars will know that I discuss possible future technologies that may revolutionise the way we currently manage equine parasitic worms as a component of integrated pasture hygiene.  Well, move over Parasight System – and hello Poop2Proof !  While they are identical technologies, Poop2Proof is the front-runner name emerging for the equine version of this new smartphone faecal egg counting system developed by the University of Kentucky under license to animal health company, Zoetis.  Poop2Proof will ultimately reach the market for a select group via the US equine health technology company, MEP Equine Solutions, but this may not be for at least another two years.

P2P public image

Poop2Proof – exploded image of smartphone attachment against background of fluorescing eggs

What makes this system so revolutionary is that Poop2Proof has been developed to utilise computer technology that already exists within our smartphones.  Now it is about to undergo field trials and a call has been put out to USA-based veterinarians to assist.  But while Poop2Proof  – like the currently used modified McMaster system – does not have the ability to determine the gastro-intestinal parasitic worm burden of our horses, it does promise to offer a Rolls Royce version of counting any eggs that it ‘sees’.

The Poop2Proof  FEC process still requires a bit of preparation before ‘Rolls Royce’ kicks in, however.  A fluorescing, chitin (cell wall)-binding protein has to be mixed with a small amount of horse faeces which enables any eggs in the faeces sample to become coated with this special protein.  The coated eggs then give off a fluorescent ‘signature’ that can be captured in a program using smartphone technology that enables accurate counting (and distinguishing between) equine strongyle and roundworm eggs.  What’s more, Poop2Proof can record an image of each test sample thus providing an important, visual record of the FEC event for each horse (which can be emailed to the client, for example).  The technology is quick, portable (it can be done in the paddock) and does not require special training.  This all sounds very promising, but don’t put your microscope on eBay just yet…

EBW contacted University of Kentucky equine parasitology expert and co-author of the veterinary text – Handbook of Equine Parasite Control  – Dr Martin Nielsen, to establish why Poop2Proof is only going to be made available to veterinarians.  He advised it was because of a desire to engage veterinarians more effectively in equine parasite control which may not be achieved if they were bypassed by selling Poop2Proof direct to clients.  However, he did think it likely the technology will ultimately trickle down to horse owners.

While this is sound rationale, unfortunately it is of no immediate help to the horse owner who wants to manage parasite contamination of pastures proactively by undertaking FECs in their own time, at their own premises, with their own equipment.  It is timely to remind (and reassure) horse owners that the existing modified McMaster technique used for FECs has served the equine (and livestock) communities well for many years and that that the same equine and animal parasitologists behind the development of Poop2Proof have been long term proponents of the modified McMaster system.  So, microscope-based faecal egg counting will be around for a long while yet.

Here at Evidence Based Worming we would be happy for our FEC workshops to be superseded by Poop2Proof.  This would allow us to concentrate solely on raising awareness throughout the equine community about the fast emerging problem of worm resistance to all currently available chemical anthelmintics.  But until Poop2Proof is made available to all who wish to acquire it, I won’t be moth-balling my microscopes.  Hopefully MEP Equine Solutions will reconsider their decision to restrict ownership of Poop2Proof to veterinarians once the USA field trials are complete.  It would be a pity to have to wait years for the patent to wear off before private horse owners can access a similar, cheaper version when it enters the market.