Meningococcal cases in Germany shared same strain
Stars and Stripes March 17, 2006
Lab tests conducted on a Kitzingen teen who contracted meningococcal disease earlier this month found that he carried the same strain that killed the 23-year-old spouse of a Schweinfurt soldier in February, according to one of Germany’s leading infectious disease experts.
Furthermore, the particular strain — Type C meningitis — is “extremely rare here in Germany,” said Dr. Ulrich Vogel, a professor at Germany’s national reference laboratory for meningococcal disease.
“From the laboratory’s point of view, they (the cases) are linked,” Vogel said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The bugs are identical.”
But Vogel added that doesn’t mean there is a direct link between the two individuals, as in she gave the disease to him. Rather, he explained, the “bug” may be part of a “significant cluster” of epidemiological activity involving other individuals that is somehow linked.
“It’s unusual to have two cases of that kind in such an area and in such a time span,” Vogel said. “It’s not likely to have this [happen] by chance.”
The distance between Kitzingen and Schweinfurt is about 25 miles. The two cases occurred about five weeks apart. That time frame is well beyond the normal incubation period for meningococcal disease but not at all outside the realm of possibility, based on documented cases, Vogel said.
Both Americans worked at the commissary in their respective communities, though, at least for now, there is absolutely no indication that that played a primary role in their illnesses, U.S. authorities said.
The two individuals “are not directly linked,” said Maj. Heidi Whitescarver, chief of preventive medicine at the Würzburg Army Hospital. “They didn’t know each other. They didn’t travel in the same circles.”
That was confirmed by the father of Christopher Screen, the 16-year-old from Kitzingen who contracted meningitis nearly two weeks ago.
“They never knew each other,” said Audwin Screen, a civilian who works for the U.S. Army. “We have no idea what the relationship is between the young woman who died and Christopher’s illness.”
The German doctors who are treating Christopher Screen had planned to discharge him Thursday, but changed course after the teen developed a slight fever. Audwin Screen said his son will probably remain at the children’s hospital in Würzburg for another day or two.
Doctors “are very happy with his progress,” Audwin Screen said. “He’s still moving slowly. He’s still healing.”
Screen said his family feels quite fortunate, since the disease this year has already claimed the lives of three Americans living in Germany, including Pfc. Dave Robbins, a 20-year-old soldier from Kitzingen.
In addition to Robbins, Lindsey Ferris, a 26-year-old agent with the Office of Special Investigations at Spangdahlem Air Base, and Kimberly Wesson, a 23-year-old spouse from Schweinfurt, died from meningococcal disease.
Robbins and Ferris succumbed to septicemia, another form of the disease, while Wesson died from Type C meningitis. None of the first three cases were related to each other, officials have said.
One of the primary symptoms of meningococcal disease is high fever accompanied by severe headache and stiff neck and shoulders. Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms.
Meningococcal disease can be fatal in two ways.
The disease attacks the meninges, the thin layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord, which can disable the brain and central nervous system.
The septicemia form of the disease occurs when bacteria multiplies in the blood, generating poisons that can make a person feel ill and feverish. In turn, the poisons damage the walls of the blood vessels, causing blood to seep out, which will shut down a person’s circulatory system.