Fla. Authorities Issue Advisory on Mosquitoes' Carrying Virus

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By Henry Magenheim

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some of Florida's major tourist areas were under a health advisory after chickens used as a gauge for the mosquito-borne St. Louis encephalitis virus tested positive.

State health officials advised travelers visiting eight Florida counties to suspend outdoor evening and early morning activities to avoid the nocturnal pests. No human cases of the flu-like virus, which can be fatal, had been reported at press time.

The counties include Orange, encompassing the Orlando area; Brevard, including the Florida Space Coast; Lee, including the Fort Myers-Sanibel area; Charlotte, Hendry, Indian River, and Martin.

Health officials were mystified by the lack of clinical cases and could not say whether the strain was virulent enough to affect humans.

Resorts reported numerous inquiries, but had not detected related cancellations. Walt Disney World's travel industry marketing department said it had received only a few inquiries, and reported that cancellation policies for now are unchanged. Kingdom Tours, based in Plains, Pa., which does heavy Florida volume, anticipated that client inquiries would be substantial after pre-Labor Day publicity began to take effect. Gary Wirth, vice president of customer service, said the operator faxed an advisory to all agencies with Florida clients arriving through Sept. 15. Should clients want to rebook, Kingdom said it will waive its cancellation charge and will ask airlines and hotels to consider doing the same.

At Walt Disney World, which is partly in Orange County, resort pools and water parks now close at 7 p.m. Disney's Fort Wilderness campground, in a wooded area, discontinued evening hayrides, trail rides and barbecues, while early morning fishing excursions are leaving later, at 8 a.m. However, Disney's three major theme parks and Pleasure Island remain open at night because of successful mosquito control measures, a Disney spokeswoman said. Universal Studios Florida in Orlando closes before dark, a spokesman said, so visitors are not affected.

The Orlando-Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau issued a bulletin to receptive operators and meeting planners with groups scheduled to visit the area through November, saying that it was closely monitoring the situation. Orange County and Indian River County issued formal health alerts; the other counties are under a health "watch."

Health officials informed physicians, hospitals, clinics and other care takers to include tests when patients show possible symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness and fever. Dr. Thomas Breaud, manager of the mosquito control department of Orange County's Health Services Division in Orlando, told Travel Weekly that 17 employees are on the road day and night destroying mosquito-breeding sites and spraying residential and tourist areas.

In Brevard County, visitors were being advised informally to curtail evening activities, said Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism in Cape Canaveral. To protect themselves, visitors were advised to use insect repellent containing DEET. Because the repellent may be in short supply locally, clients headed for the eight Florida counties were urged to bring some along.

The Florida Department of Health can be reached at (850) 488-2905; the Orange County Department of Health at (407) 836-2664.

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