First Fort Leonard Wood trainee death since February under investigation
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Friday, July 17, 2009 11:59 pm
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (July 17, 2009) — A Fort Leonard Wood trainee died last week under circumstances that are still being investigated.
Post officials say the death on July 9 of Spec. Kevin Illes, who was in the advanced individual training portion of his preparation to become a soldier in the New York National Guard, is not considered suspicious. It’s the first death on post of a Fort Leonard Wood servicemember since a series of meningitis cases struck the post and killed two trainees earlier this year.
Illes was pronounced dead at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital that morning after he was found unresponsive in his barracks room about 5 a.m. According to a post press release, other soldiers “immediately performed CPR and called Fort Leonard Wood Emergency Medical Services.”
Post ambulance personnel arrived at 5:15 a.m. and transported Illes by ambulance to the hospital’s emergency room where efforts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at 6:38 a.m.
Illes, 29, lived in Shirley, N.Y., and during his advanced individual training was a member of the 84th Chemical Battalion in the 3rd Chemical Brigade. AIT follows basic training and is intended to teach a future soldier the specialized skills needed for his specific military duties.
Fort Leonard Wood officials routinely report deaths regardless of cause, as well as cases of serious illness involving servicemembers. Prior to Illes, the last death was on Feb. 17 when Pvt. 2nd Class Randy L. Stabnik of South Bend, Ind., became the second member of Company A of the 554th Engineers to die of complications related to meningitis.
The last report of a serious communicable illness involved a Fort Leonard Wood soldier who reported to the post hospital’s sick call on June 16, just three days after arriving at Fort Leonard Wood, and was subsequently diagnosed with the H1N1 influenza strain, previously called “swine flu.”
The prior meningitis cases and H1N1 case are not known to be related to Illes’ death.
According to post officials, the unidentified soldier with H1N1 influenza arrived on post on June 13. That means he may have contracted the illness elsewhere but began showing symptoms after arriving at Fort Leonard Wood.
Doctors at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital performed a one-hour “rapid-flu test” which determined that he was suffering from Influenza Type A, which is a “broad category of flu-like viruses,” according to a post press release. Subsequent tests conducted at the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine verified the H1N1 strain in a more complex testing procedure that takes about three days to complete.
The H1N1 strain was declared a pandemic by officials at the World Health Organization in June due to its widespread reach. First seen in Mexico in March and first detected in the United States in April, it’s a new strain of flu that in some cases has killed its victims and which health officials initially feared would prove resistant to existing treatments.
Even though the new strain of flu has become widespread, it doesn’t appear to have the level of fatal complications that researchers originally feared could be present. Missouri has had 70 confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 flu and one death, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which is among the lowest infection rates in the country compared to many other states. Missouri state health officials report that as of Friday, there have been no more H1N1 cases in Pulaski County. In adjacent areas near Fort Leonard Wood, Camden, Miller, Laclede, Phelps and Texas counties have had no H1N1 cases since the disease was first identified; Maries County has had only one case. Nationwide, as of Friday there have been 40,617 cases of H1N1 flu resulting in 263 deaths. That’s almost half of the 95,000 confirmed worldwide cases.
In the Fort Leonard Wood case, the soldier was promptly treated by hospital officials and they expect a full recovery.
“At this time, GLWACH staff members have not identified the source of the soldier’s illness, but there are no other suspected cases of H1N1 here,” post officials reported, noting that hospital officials are working with state and county health officials “to ensure full surveillance and treatment as needed.”
Those steps include the ordinary steps taken to prevent spread of any other flu, since the H1N1 flu virus “spreads from person-to-person in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, those precautions include:
• Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throwing the tissue in the trash after use;
• Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, or using alcohol-based hand cleaners;
• Avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth to deter spread of germs;
• Trying to avoid close contact with sick people;
• Staying home when sick for seven days after symptoms begin or until infected people have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer, to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.