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Insect repellent won't stick to store shelves

Stores are having a hard time keeping pace as the recent encephalitis outbreak has people stocking up on insect repellent. "We are aware that there are distribution problems," said Barbara Jorgensen, a spokeswoman for Deep Woods Off, in Racine, Wis. The company is the sales leader of insect repellents nationwide. "Customer demand is exceeding the supply in Florida."

Three people have died in Florida from the outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis, a mosquito-carried virus that causes inflammation of the brain, according to the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). Forty-six cases have been confirmed statewide, including two in Hillsborough County. No cases have been confirmed in Pinellas.

Although the disease, carried by one species of mosquito, poses few risks to most people, it leads to death in a limited number of cases.

Symptoms can range from headaches and fever to coma and death.

Sales of anti-bug products has been increasing all over the state, particularly in

Central and South Florida, where the outbreak of the mosquito-carried disease has been confined, store and product officials said Monday.

"The sale of Cutter products, in the last month in particular, have increased tremendously," said Greg Decker, a spokesman for Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, Ind., which makes Cutter, the second-best selling brand in the country. "We're expecting this to rise through the end of the year. I think this is because of the encephalitis outbreak."

Fall and winter generally signal a decrease in sales for insect repellent, industry officials said, so the sudden demand has caught some merchants and bug spray companies by surprise.

"The brand that we're having a hard time keeping in stock is OFF!," said Barbara Steen, an assistant manager for a K

mart department store in Brandon. "As soon as we put it out, they're taking it down."

"We're selling more," said Richard Parent, a salesman in the camping department for Sports Un-limited in Largo. "Usually it's to hunters and campers and fishermen, but now people are buying it to go to softball games. Now it's families that are scared of encephalitis."

A random sampling of five north Pinellas County outlets found empty shelves where repellents were supposed to be.

"We've had a few minor out-of-stock problems," said Mark Sutherland, advertising director for Winn Dixie Stores.

"We're selling repellents at a near-record pace all over the state," said Gene Ormond, a spokesman for Eckerd Drugs. "There are going to be temporary outages in high-demand areas."

Events such as the Clearwater Jazz Holiday and Sunday's Tampa Bay Buccaneers game may have caused localized outages in Tampa Bay stores, Ormond said. People might want to get their supplies for Halloween early, he said.

Both Decker and Jorgensen said their companies are getting fresh supplies to Florida as quickly as possible.

"It's so new that we're trying to keep up with the demand," Decker said. "This is an unexpected type of thing."

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