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2nd soldier at Missouri base dies of meningitis

/ Source: The Associated Press

A second soldier stationed at the Army’s Fort Leonard Wood has died of meningitis, officials said Tuesday.

Army officials said Pvt. Randy Stabnick, 28, of South Bend, Ind., died Tuesday at a hospital in Springfield.

A 23-year-old soldier from Alabama stationed at the base died Feb. 9. His name and hometown were not released at his family’s request.

Both soldiers were members of the 1st Engineering Brigade of the 554th Engineers Battalion, said Col. Tommy Mize, commander of the brigade. They lived on the same floor in the same barracks. Both were in training to become heavy equipment operators.

At a news conference, officials at the base said the deaths were both the result of pneumococcal meningitis, a bacterial strain of the disease. The base’s chief medical officer, Lt. Col. John Lowery, said there was no concern of an outbreak over a strain of meningitis he characterized as “non-contagious.” But he admitted officials were puzzled that two soldiers died within days of each other from the same disease.

“Is it just lightning striking twice or is there something unusually different in these cases?” Lowery asked.

To help find the answer, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent four representatives to investigate.

Base officials said they were increasing soldiers’ awareness of preventive measures, reminding them to wash their hands, avoid sharing utensils and to use proper cough etiquette.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said unlike other forms of meningitis, pneumococcal meningitis is not easily spread and is not considered to be very contagious. On rare occasions it has appeared in clusters, in “enclosed” crowded settings such as jails or nursing homes.

Schaffner said about 15 percent to 20 percent of people who develop pneumococcal meningitis die. The disease also can cause neurological damage.

In 2002, five people at Fort Leonard Wood became ill with meningococcal meningitis. A 12-year-old boy who attended school on the base died.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is not involved in the Fort Leonard Wood investigation. Outside the base, health department spokesman Kit Wagar said, three meningitis cases have been reported in the state this year, most recently a 15-year-old girl diagnosed during the weekend and hospitalized in Columbia.

Wagar said Missouri had 26 cases last year, including three deaths.