Many in Fort Collins rush to get meningitis vaccines in wake of deaths

5:32 PM, Jun 23, 2010   |    comments
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Now that Fort Collins Adult Hockey Association players Brian Wormus and Nick Smith have died of invasive meningococcal disease, Krizman is fast-tracking a meningitis vaccination clinic she's trying to schedule for July.

"If you wait until you do get [meningitis], the chances of you living aren't good," she said. "Sierra, when we took her to the doctor, they had no clue what she had until after she was gone."

The meningitis vaccine, Krizman said, is a $125 insurance policy against the disease, which is spread by saliva and other nose and throat secretions.

Since Wormus died June 14, Krizman said she has received more than 50 calls from people looking to get the vaccine, which her foundation will pay for.

But even though there have been two deaths from the disease in Fort Collins and two others remain hospitalized, the situation isn't so dire that everyone should rush out to get vaccinated, said Adrienne LeBailly, director of the Larimer County Department of Public Health and Environment.

"Individuals don't need to do anything immediately for the most part," she said. "We've already treated close contacts (of the affected hockey players) with antibiotics. People need to think at some point whether it's worth the approximately $125 to be vaccinated versus the extremely low risk that they'll ever get it."

Everyone is exposed to the meningococcal bacteria at some point in their lives, and only about 1 percent get sick. LeBailly said it is usually young people who are most susceptible to it because they have not built up immunity to it.

"Most of our Health Department staff have never been vaccinated unless they've been traveling internationally," LeBailly said. "If you're going to Africa, this is definitely a vaccine you want to get."

So far, there is no evidence the illness is spreading through Fort Collins.

No other meningococcal disease cases have occurred in Fort Collins since the third hockey player, William Jubert of Bellvue, known as "Patient 5," became ill last week while on vacation in Montana. Neither Poudre Valley Hospital nor Medical Center of the Rockies are treating anyone with symptoms of meningitis, said Poudre Valley Health System spokesman Kevin Darst.

"We don't have more people than usual coming in with symptoms or saying they have symptoms," he said. "We just haven't seen anything at this point."

David Schmidt, medical director for Associates in Family Medicine in Fort Collins, said the practice's offices have been receiving many phone calls from patients wondering how to get the meningitis vaccine.

"We're following the recommendations of the Health Department," he said, adding that the vaccine is available and there is no shortage.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends only a few specific groups of people obtain the meningococcal vaccine, including:
- Some high-risk children
- All children and teens between the ages of 11 and 18.
- Adults including college freshmen living in a dormitory; military recruits; people with a damaged spleen or a terminal complement deficiency; microbiologists routinely exposed meningococcal bacteria and anyone traveling to foreign countries where the disease is common.

Meanwhile, the bacteria in each Fort Collins case of meningococcal disease, including that of Wormus, Smith, Jubert and a CSU student known as "Patient 1" who became ill in May, are all genetically identical to the bacteria that killed the Metro State student.

Jubert remains in intensive care in a Great Falls, Mont., hospital. LeBailly said she has no information on the status of Patient 1.

The Metro State student, whose identity was confirmed Wednesday as Alexander Welch, 20, by the Adams County Coroner's Office, had attended a party in early April in Boulder, where he and some University of Colorado students played drinking games.

Once the student became ill, CU officials alerted students there of possible exposure to meningitis.

"We did not end up treating any students who were symptomatic," CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said.

LeBailly said she has heard, but has not confirmed, that the Metro State student had two friends who were Colorado State University students. Those students were told they were exposed and were immediately given antibiotics, she said.

"The link to CSU is not one that suggests bacteria are being spread at CSU at this time," she said, adding that Patient 1 may have picked up the bacteria off-campus.

CSU officials posted a statement on the university's website Wednesday saying there is no medical emergency on campus, but all students are encouraged to be vaccinated for meningitis.

For more meningitis vaccine information:
Centers for Disease Control:
Sierra Krizman's Race Against Meningitis:

This story written by Bobby Magill, Fort Collins Coloradoan.

(Copyright © 2010 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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