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