SDUT: Military Readiness?
Recruit's Death May Be Tied To Bacterial Infection
By Lisa Petrillo - San Diego Union-Tribune
Marines consider suspending work
San Diego - A young Marine recruit complaining of an ankle rash yesterday died three hours later, amid growing concerns over an outbreak of a bacterial infection at Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
Marine officials announced last night they are considering temporarily ceasing all training at the base, an unusual "stand down" that could affect more than 5,000 recruits and training personnel.
So far, nearly 100 personnel have been stricken by streptococcus A. Three remain in intensive care. In severe cases, a particularly virulent strain of the bacteria can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease that attacks deep layers of tissue.
Two other recruits have died during training in the past three weeks, but it is unknown whether their deaths are related to the infectious outbreak.
The latest victim was Pvt. Miguel "Mike" Zavala, 18, who reported to the base clinic at 9:45 a.m. along with 394 members of his training company for a routine medical check.
After Zavala was seen in the clinic, Marine officials said, doctors concluded the rash on his left ankle was serious enough to require attention at Naval Medical Center San Diego. At the hospital, the rash quickly spread to the rest of his body and he started suffering pneumonia-like symptoms.
By 1:01 p.m., he was dead.
County health officials are working with Marine officials to control the spread of the disease, said Dr. Michelle Ginsberg, head of the county Health Department's epidemiology unit.
"In such a group setting it is not unusual to have an outbreak of strep," Ginsberg said. "You have all those recruits from different parts of the country living in close quarters, it's very stressful, very physical."
During the annual ceremonial Christmas tree lighting last night at MCRD, Gen. Jan Huly, the base's commanding general, told the assembled crowd of military and civilians that he was considering the unusual step of suspending training until they can solve the health crisis. Military officials say they plan to make an announcement today on the health crisis at the base.
If officials determine there is an outbreak of flesh-eating disease, it would be rare but not unprecedented in the county or in such a group setting.
The disease inspired a media frenzy in early 1994 after killing a dozen people in Great Britain. About 9,400 cases of invasive Group A strep occurred in the United States in 1999, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, with 600 of those suffering from the flesh-eating disease.
Zavala was 23 days into his 63-day training. He surprised his family by calling home on a Saturday afternoon. Zavala's family said he told them two other recruits had died recently and his superiors gave everyone in his training group, Fox Company, 10 minutes to call family and assure them that they were fine.
"He just talked to us yesterday and he was so happy," Ana Zavala, an older sister, said from the recruit's rural central California hometown of Greenfield, near Salinas.
Miguel Zavala left home last month for the Marines to take the first step toward his childhood dream of becoming a police officer, his family said.
They described him as a healthy, strong and active teen, who played varsity football and wrestled for Greenfield High School. He grew up in a large family, the second youngest of two girls and four boys.
Yesterday afternoon, Marine officials called his mother, Lilia Zavala Perez, saying that Miguel was extremely ill and asked for someone from the family to come to the hospital, his sister said.
"They said that his heart had stopped three times and he had pneumonia, they didn't expect him to pull through," said Ana Zavala.
Perez jumped into the family car and headed south, but didn't make it half way on the five-hour drive before the doctors called the family again, saying it was too late, he had died.
Health officials still are investigating the deaths of Pvt. Samuel J. Bruss, 19, who died after survival training at a base swimming pool Thursday, and of Pvt. Neal Edwards, 18, who died Nov. 23 after completing a basic obstacle course.
© Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune