MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The effort to stop bird flu from spreading in Minnesota means millions of birds must be killed.

Forty-nine farms in 17 Minnesota counties have found bird flu. If one bird has it, the rest of the flock must be eliminated.

The Minnesota National Guard is now helping with the effort to destroy nearly 3 million turkeys.

“We have a large truck, it’s called a hippo,” a Guard spokesman, Major Scott Hawks, said. “It provides a large quantity of water on scene that is of a drinking grade, but it will be used for the foaming procedure to depopulate the farms of the infected turkeys.”

Fifteen military trucks and 30 National Guard soldiers arrived in Willmar to help dispense the water needed to activate the deadly foam. It is a government-approved method of destroying large numbers of turkeys infected with the avian flu.

Dr. Beth Thompson is a veterinarian with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

“It is really because of this virus, because of this disease, much more humane, once the diagnosis is made, that all birds be depopulated,” she said.

The board is one of the agencies working on containing the outbreak.

“The foam is used so that the turkeys no longer can breathe,” Thompson said. “It is a very quick process that is much more humane than allowing them to die from the virus.”

The remains of the birds stay inside the barn, where they are turned into compost, but the process takes about a month.

Veterinarians know the disease is spread by wild waterfowl, but that’s about it.

“We are trying to figure out the mechanism for the virus getting into the barns,” she said. “We know the wild waterfowl are bringing it into the state.”

A team of epidemiologists is working to pinpoint how it’s getting into the barns.

Until they find an answer, dozens of turkey farms in Minnesota will be left with barns filled with bird remains, rather than birds that can be sold.

Multiple loads of water will be delivered to turkey farms with infected birds through Wednesday.

Minnesota is the the No. 1 turkey-producing state in the country.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar plans to meet with the Secretary of Agriculture to see if farmers can get more federal relief.

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