With temperatures starting to warm as summer nears, federal health officials have said they are hopeful the virulent avian influenza that has infected almost 45 million birds in the U.S., mostly located in the Midwest, has reached its peak.
|USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford|
Still, two more states--Nebraska and Iowa--reported new outbreaks of the bird flu just days after John Clifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer, told Reuters that the worst of the epidemic was over. The agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it reports cases days and sometimes weeks after state agencies identify and report cases, creating a lag for the federal agency's numbers, the news agency said.
Avian influenza has swept through 16 states and Canada since being identified late last year.
Though the USDA says the virus has apparently begun to slow in the Midwest and is expected to taper off as warmer weather settles in, there is concern it could reappear in force this fall when temperatures become cooler.
"All the research I've been able to find is showing that this virus could likely stick around for years," Robert Cobb, state veterinarian for Georgia, told Reuters. Georgia, which is the leading producer of chickens for meat, hasn't reported any avian influenza cases.
The USDA has yet to find an acceptable vaccine to combat the virus, saying that additional criteria must be met before a vaccine can be approved for emergency use. The vaccine currently available is only 60% effective in chickens, which leaves four in 10 birds unprotected. It's effectiveness for use with turkeys is still under study by the agency.
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