MIAMI — Forty percent of Florida was under a medical alert for the deadly disease St. Louis encephalitis Friday after health officials confirmed four cases of the virus in humans in the state, one of them fatal.
The Florida Health Department expanded its alert from six to 27 of the state's 67 counties, covering a swath of central Florida that includes the Orlando-area Disney World and Universal Studios entertainment complexes, as well as other popular tourist destinations.
Residents and visitors to the affected counties were told to minimize gardening and other outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, cover as much of their skin as possible while outside during hours mosquitoes are present, use mosquito repellent, eliminate stagnant water in birdbaths and other receptacles and check screens on their homes.
Department spokeswoman Pam Potter-Ricco said there was no reason for visitors to stay away from the state.
The medical alert area stretched from Daytona Beach in Volusia County south to Palm Beach. Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Florida Keys were not affected.
Potter-Ricco said the threat of the disease would pass in a couple of months, when the weather changes and Florida's mosquito population drops, if not sooner.
On Tuesday, Florida health officials reported the first known fatal case of the mosquito-borne virus in the state this year, a 68-year-old man from the Tampa area. The very young and older people are considered most vulnerable to encephalitis, a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain.
In a typical year there are few or no cases of encephalitis in Florida. The last large outbreak of this strain of the disease was in 1990, when there were 223 confirmed cases and 11 deaths, all of them people older than 58.