One dead, one 'very seriously ill' following meningitis outbreak on FLW
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Monday, February 16, 2009 4:30 am
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Feb. 16, 2009) — One soldier is dead and a second is hospitalized in “very serious” condition following a meningitis outbreak that hit Fort Leonard Wood this month, post officials announced Sunday.
The two cases are apparently unrelated and both involve a non-contagious type of meningitis.
In the first case, a soldier from a basic training unit was diagnosed with meningitis on Feb. 5 and later died. The second case involved a 28-year-old in basic training who is listed as “very seriously ill but in stable condition” at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield after being diagnosed Friday with a strep pneumonia infection leading to a non-contagious complication of meningitis.
“There is no known medical connection between these two cases,” said Lt. Col. John Lowery, a medical doctor who serves as the deputy commander for clinical services at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, in a prepared statement.
“Although difficult to comprehend, all clinical data show these cases are unrelated and purely coincidental,” Lowery said.
Close quarters and high stress levels inherent in basic training can make disease transmission a problem, and this isn’t the first meningitis outbreak at Fort Leonard Wood.
In 2002, the Missouri Special Olympics organization had to move its event off the post after 26 years of hosting it at Fort Leonard Wood following a meningitis outbreak from February to April which infected at least four and possibly as many as seven people, including a 12-year-old son of an active duty soldier who appeared to have contracted the disease while a student at what was then known as Wood Middle School and died four hours after being taken to the hospital.
Others who contracted the disease in 2002 included an 18-year-old male sailor in advanced individual training, a 20-year-old male sailor in advanced individual training, and a 31-year-old female Army advanced individual trainee. A subsequent Army medical report identified a 50-year-old woman who died on Feb. 22 after visiting the post several days earlier for a community service project as a probable meningitis case and a 12-year-old classmate of the dead Wood Middle School student as a suspected meningitis case; in addition, an Army wife at Fort Bragg died of confirmed meningitis two hours after coming to that installation's hospital on April 7. While the Fort Bragg wife had the same strain of meningitis as the Fort Leonard Wood cases and her husband had completed basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in late January before marrying her in March, Army doctors said the delayed onset of the illness made the Fort Leonard Wood connection “tenuous.”
In the current outbreak, medical personnel at St. John’s Hospital have sent meningitis strain samples from both trainees to the Centers for Disease Control “in order to determine if there may be anything else we can do to help reduce any further risk to others,” according to the press release. Other federal agencies such as the office of the Surgeon General and U.S. Army Medical Command, as well as the higher headquarters supervising General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital at Great Plains Regional Medical Command, have also been notified and are “reviewing these cases and collaborating with the Army Medical Department to determine what additional steps are needed to identify and treat soldiers to reduce any further risk to others.”
Steps currently being taken include giving soldiers in the affected unit “medical priority to ensure their medical concerns are immediately addressed” and “taking all appropriate medical recommendations to enforce preventive health measures such as proper hand washing, not sharing eating or drinking utensils, proper cough etiquette and personal hygiene measures to reduce transmission of various respiratory diseases.”
Fort Leonard Wood’s commander, Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, issued a statement of support for the affected personnel.
“The soldier and his family are in our prayers today. The leadership at Fort Leonard Wood and our surrounding communities are pulling together to do all we can for the soldier and his family,” said Martin. “While the coincidence of these cases is alarming, I have confidence in the leadership at every level to inform, educate and take care of our soldiers, civilians, contractors and family members about what we are doing to determine the cause of the meningitis and to protect the health, safety and well-being of our people.”
According to a Fort Leonard Wood fact sheet about meningitis posted online, the disease infects the spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain, and is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Common symptoms for children and adults include high fever, headache, and a stiff neck; other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness; the disease can also appear in infants with a different set of symptoms.
With antibiotic treatment, the death rate for meningitis is typically less than 15 percent, according to the fact sheet. While the disease is not spread by casual contact, factors increasing the risk of infection include coughing, kissing, and other forms of close contact such as being in the same household or day care center.