Meningitis blamed for recruit's death

February 6, 2011 

A 19-year-old recruit at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island died Saturday at a Charleston hospital from complications believed to be brought on by a suspected case of meningitis. As many as 200 personnel at the depot have been given an antibiotic as a precaution, according to a Marine Corps Public Affairs Office news release.

Keerica R. Allen, 19, of Atlanta, died at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston at about 4 p.m. Her death is being attributed to complications of a suspected case of meningitis, according to the release.

Medical staff at MUSC have not yet confirmed Allen was suffering from meningitis, Maj. William Pelletier, a spokesman for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, said Sunday. Depot personnel expect to have Allen's test results today, he said.

As a precaution, about 175 to 200 personnel at the depot who might have come into contact with Allen were given the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin, although no one had reported experiencing symptoms of meningitis by Sunday night. The antibiotic had been distributed to those personnel by mid-day Saturday, Pelletier said.

Bacterial meningitis, sometimes referred to as spinal meningitis, is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

Knowing whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ depending on the cause. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and clears up without specific treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bacterial meningitis, however, can be severe and can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities, according to the CDC.

"The treatment assures we are accounting for the worst possible scenario," Pelletier said. "We're monitoring depot personnel for any symptoms that could indicate meningitis."

Everyone in Allen's Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion -- 120 recruits and about 50 other personnel and staff -- was given the antibiotic, he said.

"The primary concern is for those who came into direct contact with her, but we're casting the net wide for those who may have had just brief contact," he said.

Early diagnosis for bacterial meningitis and treatment is crucial. Those exhibiting symptoms should see a doctor immediately, according to the CDC. Bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics, although the CDC recommends treatment be started early in the course of the disease.

Although it has not yet been confirmed Allen suffered from meningitis, an investigation into how she may have contracted the illness is underway, Pelletier said. Allen arrived at the depot for her training about seven weeks ago, he said.

It was unclear Sunday whether recruits are required to be vaccinated for the disease before reporting for training. The CDC recommends those with increased risk for bacterial meningitis -- such as students living in college dormitories, travelers and military personnel -- be vaccinated for the disease.

The last confirmed recruit death due to meningitis at the depot was in December 2001, according to the depot's release.

Allen first reported to a drill instructor that she felt ill Thursday night. She and her instructor scheduled an appointment the following morning -- Friday -- at a battalion aid station, Pelletier said.

After her battalion aid station appointment, Allen was sent to the depot's branch medical clinic. At the clinic, medical staff took blood samples and X-rays and Allen was placed on bed rest, Pelletier said.

Later Friday afternoon, Allen complained that she felt worse. She was taken to Naval Hospital Beaufort and then transferred to Beaufort Memorial Hospital around midnight, Pelletier said. There, she received CT scans and a spinal tap to help with diagnosis and other treatment, he said.

Early Saturday, Allen's condition worsened and she was taken to MUSC at about 3 a.m., Pelletier said. Her parents were with her when she died at about 4 p.m., he said.

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