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FLW announces second meningitis death in same training unit
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Feb. 17, 2009) — Post officials confirmed at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that a second trainee at Fort Leonard Wood has died of a strain of bacterial meningitis that they say isn’t contagious.

That soldier, Pvt. 2nd Class Randy L. Stabnik of South Bend, Ind., died Tuesday of complications from a strep pneumonia infection leading to a non-contagious complication of meningitis at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Stabnik and another soldier from Company A of the 554th Engineers both died in what Lt. Col. John Lowery, the post hospital’s medical director, called a case of “lightning striking twice.”

The family of the soldier who died Feb. 9 has requested that his name not be released, according to Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, the commander of Fort Leonard Wood.

Both trainees were in the advanced individual training phase of becoming heavy equipment operators for the Army.

“The loss of a soldier’s life is a great tragedy and a matter of concern regardless of the cause,” Martin said. “This is a serious issue and we are taking timely and aggressive action to do all that we can to protect the life, safety and welfare of our people.”

Two incidents of a non-contagious strain of meningitis striking two trainees in the same Army unit just a week apart is highly unusual, Martin said, and the strain is unrelated to a third incidence of meningitis which has felled a Camdenton High School student one county north of the post.

As a result, officials with the Centers for Disease Control are coming to Fort Leonard Wood tonight to advise on any additional steps that can be taken by military officials, Martin said.

Lowery said the strain of bacteria that infected the two trainees is very common, and is present in 65 percent of the healthy adult population and 90 percent of children. It usually causes minor flu-like symptoms but in people with weak or compromised immune systems, can rapidly accelerate to become a full-blown infection of the spinal fluid known as meningitis.

“Is it something contagious? The bacteria itself can be spread person to person, and it’s normal. That’s how 65 percent of us in this room got it; it’s everywhere. But you can’t get meningitis from someone who has got meningitis,” Lowery said. “Who are at risk? The populations we normally talk about being at risk are those who have something different about their immune system.”

That’s different from the 2002 strain that attacked six and possibly seven people at Fort Leonard Wood, resulting in three deaths.

“Even though it is incredibly rare, we have had two cases strike in one floor. Basically lightning stuck twice. We want to make sure we have not had something unusual take place that would cause us to take unusual measures,” Lowery said. “I can tell you from early studies with this, we know these are not penicillin resistant, so we do not have a superbug.”

Lowery said at this point there are no plans for mass inoculation of the community since the underlying bacteria are common but only rarely develop into full-blown meningitis.

Post officials initially said the compromised immune system of one trainee was an ear infection and the other trainee had a stomachache. When asked for details, Lowery acknowledged that the ear infection had progressed to the point that it became a perforated eardrum and the trainee with a stomachache had earlier been treated for bronchitis.

“There is no evidence that giving antibiotics just generally would prevent an outbreak,” Lowery said.

Martin and Lowery detailed numerous steps they’re taking to respond to the infections.

“We have reached out to the best experts in the world; we have taken all possible measures that we can. It is essentially a full press to do all that we can to protect our people,” Martin said.

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Click here for the FLW meningitis fact sheet

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