Bret Marsh has distinguished himself in the field of public animal health, serving as Indiana State Veterinarian since January 1994. He has spent his entire career with the Indiana Board of Animal Health.
Bret Marsh has distinguished himself in the field of public animal health, serving as Indiana State Veterinarian since January 1994. He has spent his entire career with the Indiana Board of Animal Health.

INDIANAPOLIS — Although no cases of foot-and-mouth disease have been found in the U.S. since 1929, making sure producers have biosecurity measures in place to protect against a potential outbreak is just as important as ever.

Indiana State Veterinarian Bret Marsh noted that FMD is a viral disease that is known as one of the most infectious in the world.

Once the disease enters a country, since it is quite contagious, it will move rapidly through livestock herds, he said.

“If it should enter the U.S., there will be significant economic losses in the livestock market,” he warned.

Marsh stressed that even though FMD hasn’t been reported in America for several decades, if producers do not do their due diligence on their operations now, the disease will have a greater potential to enter the country.

Currently, he said, South America and large portions of Asia, along with sections of Africa, are battling the disease in their animal herds, and four-fifths of the world actually is affected by it.

Marsh noted that, fortunately, there usually is not a lot of mortality associated with the disease, but it is quite debilitating.

Livestock that become infected with it — which could be cattle, goats, sheep and swine — will break out in lesions or blisters on their tongue and claws or between their hooves or on their teats. “It’s debilitating. Animals affected with lesions won’t eat,” the veterinarian said.

If FMD does enter the U.S., he added that global trade will be impacted because it will be shut off to many parts of the world. That is why it is important, Marsh emphasized, to find ways to keep up a better understanding among producers of how the disease moves and being able to determine with which strain of FMD an animal is infected.

He added that a vaccine against the virus can be an instrumental tool to help reduce the number of infected animals if the disease enters the state, but research and development of the drug cost a lot of valuable time.

Marsh mentioned that the intent is for the vaccine to provide cross protection against the multiple strains of FMD.

However, there is a drawback to the vaccine — if a herd does become infected with FMD, vaccinated animals would have to be eliminated before a producer can reestablish their livestock population. As of now, the official noted, there would be no way to test whether an animal had the vaccine or a strain of the virus.

He said although it still is a big issue, he is hopeful that a way to tell the difference will be found and approved by the industry because producers then will not have to cull animals in their herd that were never even infected.

Even though people cannot get FMD from livestock, Marsh mentioned that there have been procedures in place to protect against the virus for a number of years, but the biggest thing a producer can do is monitor their herds for any unusual behavior, such as not wanting to eat, and then call their local veterinarian to come examine that animal.