Memorial held as third person dies of meningococcal infection
The memorial service for Pfc. Dave A. Robbins concluded about the same time Kimberly Wesson’s brief life came to a heart-wrenching end.
Wesson, a military spouse from Schweinfurt, Germany, died at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Leopoldina Krankenhaus, a local German hospital. The wife of Sgt. Greg Wesson, she had been in critical condition since Wednesday with what doctors believe was meningitis. She was 23.
Her death from a meningococcal infection is the third in six days to touch the U.S. military community in Germany. Besides Wesson and Robbins, a meningococcal disease claimed the life last Sunday of Air Force civilian Lindsey Ferris, a 26-year-old agent with the Office of Special Investigations at Spangdahlem Air Base.
Meanwhile, a team from the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine arrived in Germany on Friday from the U.S. The five-member team includes an Air Force epidemiologist, an indicator of how serious health officials in both services are taking recent developments.
“We are trying to get out ahead of this a little bit,” said Army Col. Bruno Petruccelli, the team leader and director of epidemiology and disease surveillance at the center.
Health officials aren’t sure what they are confronting. Petruccelli used the word “outbreak” a few times but he also said the three known cases could represent a “cluster,” too.
“We don’t know what we have,” Petruccelli said. “We may have three unrelated cases.”
His team’s investigation, which could last a couple of months, will start from scratch, reviewing the three cases and looking for any epidemiological link between them or any others that may be out there.
Indications are that the cases of Ferris and Robbins are unrelated, said Army Lt. Col. William Corr, the preventive medicine consultant for the European Regional Medical Command. Corr also said, for now, there are no plans to launch a special vaccination effort.
There are five strands of meningococcal infection, he explained, with the vaccine being effective against all but the most common strand, which is Type B. And the vaccine takes at least a couple of weeks to kick in, he said.
Medical officials this week said Robbins died of Type B, while Ferris died of another type.
“There are other arrows in our quiver,” Corr said. Corr explained that the military is engaged in a public information campaign and is making use of antibiotics to treat people who may have come in contact with victims.
Meningococcal disease comes in two forms — meningitis and septicaemia — though they could hit an individual simultaneously. Currently, military health officials in Europe believe Wesson had the former while Robbins and Ferris had different strands of the latter.
Wesson’s death Friday hit her colleagues at the Schweinfurt commissary hard, said Bob Herms, the store director. “It came on so suddenly,” Herms said Friday evening. “… She was here at work on Tuesday.”
Wesson was on annual leave, Herms said, but she came in on her own that day because the staff was shorthanded. Herms characterized her as outgoing, dedicated and dependable, adding she came across to those who knew her as “a little ray of sunshine.”
In Kitzingen, Robbins was remembered at his memorial service as an outstanding mechanic with a sense of humor and a genuine smile. The 20-year-old had just joined the Army in January 2005. He is survived by his mother and 12 siblings.