Bird flu: National Guard to help, but virus could be around for years

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The National Guard is being deployed to help Minnesota turkey farmers deal with the avian flu outbreak.

Public safety officials announced Sunday that 30 soldiers from units based in Willmar and Brooklyn Park will be deployed Monday through Wednesday of this week.

Using military water trucks, the soldiers will deliver water that's needed to euthanize birds at the farms where the virus has been detected, according to the announcement.

"Large amounts of water are needed in foaming systems being used as part of euthanasia efforts," the news release said.

The Guard deployment is one step the state is taking to help farmers who say they've been facing delays in dealing with infected birds. They've said there isn't enough equipment in the state to euthanize them, KARE 11 reports.

The deadly avian flu outbreak has affected at least 46 farms in 16 counties since the virus was confirmed in Minnesota in March, and it's not expected to slow down since officials don't know yet where it came from or how it's spreading from farm to farm.

Could be long-term problem

As the outbreak continues to affect more and more Minnesota farms, officials note this problem could last for the next few years.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and other lawmakers toured some turkey farms Saturday and spoke with emergency responders and poultry producers about the impact the outbreak is having on their operations.

Dr. Phil Hartmann, state veterinarian, said Minnesota is seeing three to four new farms affected by the virus each day, according to Forum News Service.

A team of epidemiologists continues to work to find ways to prevent the disease from spreading. Currently, officials believe migrating waterfowl are carriers of the virus and officials are urging increased bio-security, among other methods to contain the outbreak.

“I think there needs to be better bio-security,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said, according to WCCO. “And that’s not just here, that’s all over the country.”

There is also concern the flu will return in the fall during the fall migration of waterfowl.

"This is going to be a three- to five-year problem. We have to have a solution that we can maintain three to five years until we get through with this,'' Peterson said, according to Forum News Service.

Costing farmers time and money

Farmers expressed their concerns with response efforts and how long it takes to get their farms up and running again – barns are idled for a minimum of 49 days while producers incur expenses, Forum notes.

“Every day is another day where they don’t have income and they have expenses,” Dayton said, according to WCCO. “It’s just a very, very difficult situation so we’ll do all we can to help them.”

State officials will meet Monday to figure out what other kinds of financial support they can provide to affected farms, reports say.

Producers are compensated by the USDA for birds that are euthanized, but it doesn't cover all of farmers' financial losses, the Forum says, and there is no compensation if the birds die of the disease.

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