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Virologist Richard F. Marsh Dead At 58

Richard F. Marsh, a veterinary virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died March 23, 1997 of a squamous cell carcinoma at his home in Middleton, Wis. He was 58.

Marsh earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Washington State University in 1963 and a doctorate in veterinary science from UW-Madison in 1968. He joined the Department of Veterinary Science at UW-Madison in 1970, and chaired the department from 1984 to 1989.

The son of a mink rancher, Marsh”s research included diseases of fur-bearing animals, and persistent viral diseases of the central nervous system, specifically the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. His research focused on both the transmission and cause of these infectious neurologic diseases. Marsh was a world-wide authority, and his work led to a better understanding of the causative agents, called prions.

His investigations of an outbreak of transmissible mink encephalopathy on a mink farm near Stetsonville, Wis. demonstrated that tissue from diseased mink could infect cattle, and that tissue from these diseased cattle could infect mink. Based on his work with mink and cattle, Marsh concluded that the United States was at risk for a bovine spongiform encephalopathy outbreak similar to the “Mad Cow” epidemic in Great Britain. This prompted his call, in 1986, for a ban on feeding rendered ruminant protein to cattle. Marsh was called an alarmist at the time, and was severely criticized when he repeated his call for a ban at an industry conference in 1990 and a BSE symposium in 1993.

Marsh lived to see his work vindicated. In 1996 the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a voluntary ban on feeding rendered ruminant products to ruminants, and in January 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a formal ban on using ruminant tissues in the manufacture of ruminant feeds.

Marsh is survived by his wife, Helene; their five children, Kathryn, Jeanette, Timothy, Christine, and Deanna; three grandchildren; and his sister, Kathleen.