USDA chief vet says bird flu cases waning, sees end by July

PARIS (Reuters) - The number of cases of bird flu in the United States has started to decline and the epidemic is likely to be over within a couple of months, helped by warm weather in the summer, the U.S. chief veterinary officer said on Tuesday. "We believe the worst is behind us, which doesn't mean that we still won't see additional cases but we know we see a decline in cases," John Clifford, Chief Veterinary Officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told Reuters. The U.S. poultry industry is confronting its biggest outbreak of bird flu on record, which has led to the death or culling of 40 million birds after confirmation on commercial farms and backyard flocks in 16 U.S. states and in Canada. "Summertime is coming. It gets hot in these places in July and because the heat and the sunlight reduces the virus present in the environment we will stop seeing cases," Clifford said on the sidelines of the general assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris. The bird flu crisis has severely hit the U.S. poultry industry and sent egg prices rocketing, forcing food producers to look for alternatives. Dozens of countries have imposed total or partial bans on U.S. poultry and egg imports since the bird flu outbreak with each of the top 10 importers introducing restrictions. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by David Evans)