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SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — Spangdahlem Air Base commanders launched an information blitz on Wednesday to allay fears and educate the public after an Air Force civilian died of a contagious blood infection.

An Air Force doctor held a call-in program on the base’s radio, the theater hosted two information meetings, and school nurses explained the bacterial infection and its symptoms to parents.

Lindsey Ferris, a 26-year-old agent with the Office of Special Investigations at Spangdahlem, died of meningococcal septicaemia Sunday at a German hospital in Trier. Her death came after Pvt. Dave Robbins died of the same blood infection Saturday in Würzburg. Military officials believe the cases are unrelated.

Meningococcal disease can kill a healthy person within hours of symptoms, and commanders and medical professionals are encouraging people to seek medical attention if they suspect they have some of the signs.

“We’re telling people, ‘If in doubt, go in,’ ” said Col. Dave Goldfein, commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing, the host unit at Spangdahlem.

Although commanders are urging people to be cautious, Army and Air Force officials do not want people to panic and stress the disease is not an epidemic and cannot be passed through “casual contact.”

Army health officials in Kitzingen and Würzburg educated soldiers earlier this week about meningococcal bacteria. On Monday, an Army medical team went to Harvey Barracks in Kitzingen to meet with 360 soldiers who may have had contact with Robbins. At least 90 soldiers were given antibiotics.

The team told those present that a person has to be in “close contact” with an infected individual for an extended period, typically four hours or more, to have a chance of being infected. By Monday night, if no other cases surface, the potential crisis will have passed due to the end of the incubation period.

At Spangdahlem, co-workers and people who had close contact with Ferris, including her German landlord, took antibiotics as a precaution. Air Force officials also notified German health authorities.

Meningococcal disease doesn’t happen often, but it is more prevalent in winter, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation. The disease comes in two forms: septicaemia and meningitis. Septicaemia is a form of meningococcal disease that poisons the blood. Some of the symptoms include a fever, rash, cold hands and feet, joint and muscle pain, lethargy, and abdominal pain.

More information is available at the foundation’s Web site: www.meningitis.org.

Reporter Kevin Dougherty contributed to this report.


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