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Minnesota Declares Bird Flu Emergency, Offers Drug to Workers

USDA Calls Recent Bird Flu Outbreak Biggest Ever 2:02

Minnesota’s declared a state of emergency because of bird flu, which has struck more than 40 poultry farms in the state.

The state’s also offering the anti-flu drug Tamiflu to workers who have handled the dead and dying birds, just to make sure they don’t catch it, too.

H5N2 bird flu has spread to a dozen U.S. states. It can kill chickens and turkeys quickly, and once a flock is infected, all the birds must be slaughtered and destroyed. More than 7 million U.S. birds have been slaughtered because of the virus, U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Poultry producers have been advised on ways to protect their flocks. Experts believe the virus is being carried by waterfowl migrating from Asia. Many birds can carry H5N2 without getting sick.

In Minnesota, about 87 people have been identified who might have handled sick birds, Kristen Ehresmann, infectious disease specialist at the Minnesota Department of Health, told NBC News. She said 70 of them had agreed to take a course of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that can prevent human influenza.

“The poultry on grocery store shelves has always been safe and will continue to be safe.”

There’s no evidence that people can catch H5N2, but they can catch other forms of avian influenza, notably H5N1 bird flu and H7N9 bird flu.

“We haven’t seen any human cases,” Ehresmann said. “It’s entirely possible. We just haven’t seen a case yet.”

So the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to take the drug, just in case.

”There’s no reason for anybody in the state of Minnesota to be concerned about their own health or that of their children,” Governor Mark Dayton told a news conference.

The affected birds will be destroyed by a composting process. All poultry for sale will be tested first, Dayton and other officials added.

“The poultry on grocery store shelves has always been safe and will continue to be safe,” Minnesota agriculture commissioner Dave Frederickson told a news conference.

"Farmers who haven’t been impacted by this virus, I ask you to please work with us and practice strict biosecurity on their farms." That can include covering bird feed and cleaning boots with bleach before entering houses where birds are kept.

Wisconsin declared an emergency earlier this week because of bird flu.