By Henry Magenheim
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Florida officials said fears of an outbreak of
the St. Louis encephalitic virus appear to have diminished as
another week went by without human cases reported.
Health officials said many Floridians with flu-like symptoms
have been tested since chickens in eight counties were found to
carry the mosquito-borne illness last month. It still was not clear
whether the strain is virulent enough to affect humans.
Florida tourism officials and public health officials reported
receiving numerous inquiries but no surge in cancellations.
Kingdom Tours of Plains, Pa., issued in late August a broadcast
fax about the health alerts to all agents with clients arriving in
Florida through Sept. 15. Only six agents requested that their
clients be rebooked for a later date, according to Gary Wirth, vice
president of customer service at Kingdom Tours.
Florida accounts for 50% of the volume done by Adventure
Vacations of Hunt Valley, Md., according to Vickie Singer,
executive vice president. As agents book Florida clients, its
reservationists are alerting them about measures taken to protect
visitors from mosquitoes, she said. The warnings have had no
significant effect on bookings, she said. Meanwhile, the operator
proceeded to hold a weekend outing in Orlando for the executives of
its best-producing agencies, she said.
Another major Florida operator, Travel Impressions of
Farmingdale, N.Y., reported "just a few inquiries" from agents but
no noticeable cancellations. Walt Disney World alerted Travel
Impressions about precautions it was taking to minimize exposure to
the mosquitoes, such as closing the water parks earlier, according
to Teresa McCaskie, Florida product manager. In turn, the operator
notified its reservationists and sales staff, she said, so they
were prepared for inquiries. Because no human cases of the illness
have occurred and the news media have carried stories on the
situation, the operator saw no reason to issue advisories, McCaskie
Health alerts remain in force in Orange County (the Orlando
area) and Indian River County (the Vero Beach area), and health
watches continue in Brevard, Charlotte, Hendry, Lee, Martin and
Palm Beach counties. Visitors in those counties going out after
dark are advised to "wear clothing which covers as much skin as
possible" and to use insect repellent containing DEET on skin or on
clothing. Meanwhile, county health officials outside of the eight
affected counties are testing weekly for the presence of the
disease by placing chickens in different areas.