‘You don’t think these things happen’ | AspenTimes.com

‘You don’t think these things happen’

Eben Harrell

Last Monday morning, Dustin Foote felt like he was coming down with something, perhaps the flu. He was achy and felt feverish. A healthy 22-year-old, he had no reason to be alarmed. By the afternoon, the fever had risen dramatically and Foote was slipping in and out of consciousness. His worried roommates took him to the emergency room for treatment. Within a half-hour, doctors diagnosed him with bacterial meningocaccal disease, an aggressive disease that causes meningitis, or brain swelling. Concerned about his condition, doctors decided to transport Foote to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.The weather was bad. It was slow going. Foote was pronounced dead early Tuesday morning in an ambulance near Rifle, less than 24 hours after he started to feel ill.These are the details that have emerged from Foote’s death as residents here and in his hometown of Ellensburg, Wash., struggle to come to grips with the suddenness of the young man’s death.”You don’t think these things happen,” Elliot Jacobs, Foote’s friend and high school classmate in Washington, said. “You just don’t think about getting sick in the morning and then dying that night.”Foote’s memorial service was held yesterday in Ellensburg. At the service, friends and family members passed out brochures offering details about the illness that killed Foote.Meningococcal disease is a sudden bacterial illness that afflicts around 3,000 people each year. If left untreated, it causes the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord to swell. It also causes blood poisoning and has a fatality rate of approximately 70 percent. While treatable with antibiotics, the swiftness of the illness’ onset often makes it difficult to treat effectively.Young people are most at risk because they often live together in close proximity, such as college dormitories and multi-roommate apartments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.The website also stated that while periodic outbreaks do occur, the disease often appears in isolated cases, passed on from unknowing carriers who contracted a noninvasive form of the illness without becoming ill. The disease is not highly contagious and is passed on only through intimate personal contact, often saliva exchange.As of Sunday morning, Aspen Valley Hospital reported no new cases of the disease, which has an incubation period of between one to 10 days, most commonly three to four days.”There are no new cases at AVH and no indication of an outbreak,” said the hospital’s house supervisor, E.O. Andersen.Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include some of the following: severe headache, stiff neck, high fever, bruise-like rash, nausea, vomiting, and being disoriented or confused.Foote’s death comes less than a week after a CDC advisory panel laid out recommendations that all college students who live in dorms and all 11- to 12-year-old children be given a vaccine against meningococcal bacteria.The panel’s recommendations were sparked by a new vaccine this year, Menactra, that is effective against meningococcal bacteria for more than eight years. The old vaccine lasted for three to five years, but didn’t prevent people from being carriers of the bacteria; the new vaccine does.”This is such a morbid disease,” Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo clinic told The Associated Press after the panel’s recommendations were announced. “It causes such disruption. Every time there is a case, communities panic, it closes schools down.”Back in Ellensburg, friends of Foote said they have become motivated to inform others about the disease and work to get young community members vaccinated. “Here was someone on such a course to success and this just stopped him in his tracks,” Jacobs said. “If he had been vaccinated it wouldn’t even have been an issue. I think it’s really sobered everyone to the horrific nature of this disease.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com

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