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Halloween fright is in the air

Like every Halloween, this year's celebration will offer new forms of horror. And it won't be a Saddam Hussein mask or a Freddy Krueger costume that provokes the most attention. This year's scariest offering will be a tiny creature whose appearance is barely noticeable. But it's not the costume that will send shivers up and down your spine. It's the bite.

The Culex nigrapalpus is the mosquito that has caused Florida's first serious St. Louis encephalitis outbreak since 1977. The creature comes without warning: It doesn't buzz and it doesn't give victims a swollen, itchy bite. Most people, experts say, don't even know they've been bitten.

But the threat of the hard-to-detect and sometimes-deadly disease carrier has virtually scared Halloween indoors. And even though the recent cool weather might have wiped out some of the mosquito population, officials still urge caution.

"We're still suggesting that the trick-or-treating be done in the daylight hours (when the mosquito is less active), and we're still suggesting that as much as possible that the kids participate in indoor activities just as a precaution," said Elaine Fulton-Jones, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

Short of that, the best protection is using insect repellent and wearing shoes and socks, long sleeves and pants.

It is wise to be cautious about treats, too. Some hospitals offer to X-ray the treats for foreign objects such as pins or razor blades.

As an extra precaution, candy that is not commercially wrapped or that has been opened should be rejected; fruit should be cut, washed and carefully examined.

Some other tips:

Trick or treat in small groups under adult supervision.

If trick or treating at night, carry a flashlight and wear light clothing or clothing with reflectors.

Do not approach an unlit house.

Cross streets at corners and walk on sidewalks or along the side of the road facing traffic.

Wait until returning home to inspect and eat treats.