Possible meningococcal case in Germany caught in time
Stars and Stripes March 8, 2006
A 16-year-old from Kitzingen has apparently become the fourth American in Germany this year to contract meningococcal disease, only this time the illness was caught in time, Army health officials said Tuesday.
Two days after he was admitted to a children’s hospital in Würzburg, Christopher Screen was said to be in good condition, though a bit sleepy, his mother said in a telephone interview from his hospital room. The teen’s father, Audwin, noted that his son is even feeling well enough to occasionally answer his bedside phone.
On Sunday, that wasn’t the case at all.
“He wasn’t looking too good,” said Audwin Screen, a civilian who works for the U.S. Army in Kitzingen. “He really wasn’t.”
After going out with friends to a couple of nightspots Friday, Christopher awoke Saturday feeling OK, but in the early evening he began feeling chilly and achy. Screen and his wife, Beate, took their son to a 24-hour German clinic, but when he started vomiting at noon Sunday, they began to wonder if he had meningococcal disease, based on his symptoms.
By day’s end, Christopher was in the hospital on an antibiotic undergoing a battery of tests. Audwin Screen said the German doctor now on the case told them it was a close call.
“If you guys had waited another day,” Screen said, quoting the doctor, “your son would be dead.”
Three earlier cases that involved members of the U.S. military community ended much differently. A Kitzingen soldier, an Air Force civilian from Spangdahlem Air Base and the spouse of a Schweinfurt soldier all died of the disease between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3. The last victim died of meningitis while the first two succumbed to septicaemia, another form of meningococcal disease.
Their deaths led the Army to dispatch a medical team from the United States to Germany to investigate. A final report is not expected until the end of the month, but the team concluded none of the three cases was linked to each other.
While German doctors have handled Christopher’s case from the start, U.S. Army medical personnel in Kitzingen and Würzburg have been in contact with the family and German medical personnel. As of late Tuesday, five Americans who were exposed to the teen have been treated by Army personnel, said Maj. Heidi Whitescarver, chief of preventive medicine at Würzburg Army Hospital.
In addition, co-workers of both parents as well as Christopher, who worked at the Kitzingen commissary, have been briefed, according to Whitescarver. The teen is not in the American school system.
The parents credited the Army’s public awareness efforts last month for educating them about meningococcal disease.
“It wasn’t for naught,” Whitescarver said of the awareness campaign. “In educating the community and making ourselves available to answer questions, we helped this family.”
Ulrich Vogel, a professor at German’s national reference laboratory for meningococcal disease, said doctors believe Christopher has the disease, but lab tests won’t confirm that until probably Wednesday.