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A U.S. soldier and an Air Force civilian in Germany died over the weekend of a severe bacterial infection that struck each in apparently separate cases.

In Würzburg, 20-year-old Pvt. Dave A. Robbins, of the 1st Infantry Division, died suddenly Saturday of meningococcal septicaemia, a severe blood infection, after being checked into the Army hospital there, Army officials said Tuesday.

Air Force officials confirmed Tuesday night that Lindsey Ferris, a 26-year-old agent with the Office of Special Investigations at Spangdahlem Air Base, died Sunday of the same disease in a German hospital in Trier.

The deaths prompted military medical officials in both locations to check others for exposure and administer antibiotics to counter any possible spread of the infection.

Ferris, a Michigan native, checked herself into the Bitburg Air Base emergency room Sunday morning feeling ill, Spangdahlem spokesman Capt. Tom Crosson said. At some point during the day, doctors rushed her to the hospital in Trier, where she later died.

In the Würzburg case, Robbins died Sunday morning of meningococcal septicaemia said Maj. Heidi Whitescarver, chief of preventive medicine at the Würzburg Army hospital. He had complained of pain and weakness beginning the previous day.

Septicaemia occurs when bacteria multiplies in the blood, generating poisons that make a person feel ill and feverish, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation. In turn, the poisons damage the walls of blood vessels, causing blood to seep out, which will shut down a person’s circulatory system and cause death if not immediately remedied.

As of Tuesday afternoon, none of the soldiers or civilians who had contact with Robbins showed any signs of the bacterial disease, Whitescarver said.

“They had to come in contact with his respiratory secretions,” Whitescarver said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The secretions could be emitted in a cough, or transferred by sharing a glass. But prolonged exposure — over four hours — is generally needed to transmit the bacteria.

Medical personnel in Kitzingen, where Robbins was based, were joined Monday by a small team led by Whitescarver. About 360 soldiers in his unit, the 701st Main Support Battalion, were told of Robbins’ death and the disease that killed him.

The medical team was especially interested in individuals who spent a lot of time with Robbins, or came in contact with his secretions.

Since then about 90 soldiers have been given a 500 milligram tablet of the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin, which is enough to combat the bacteria, Whitescarver said. She added that “the end point of the potential incubation period” is next Monday.

Similar precautions were taken in Ferris’ case. Anyone who had any contact with her, including friends, also were notified and received treatment, if needed.

The military transported her body to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to undergo an autopsy and determine the cause of death.

Ferris arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base in October 2003. It was her first assignment since joining the Office of Special Investigations, Crosson said.

Besides getting the word out to soldiers in Kitzingen, the Army has notified local German health officials of the case.

Said Army Lt. Col. William Corr, the preventive medicine consultant for the European Regional Medical Command: “If there is something cooking, we tell each other.”


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