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Boy Has Form Of Rare Disease That Killed Football Teammate

October 5, 1985

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ A 13-year-old football player who may have shared a drinking cup with another player who died of a rare bacterial infection has contracted the disease, but in a less serious form, doctors say.

Both youths played in western Michigan’s Wayland School District south of Grand Rapids, and Wayland High Principal J.C. Clyma said players used the same drinking cup during practices.

Brian Greenawalt, 15, a high school junior, died Friday morning from ″a rare and fatal infection known as meningococcemia in its most acute... state,″ said Dr. Eugene Johnson, medical director at Metropolitan Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Meanwhile, Tom Jackson, 13, a Wayland Middle School student, was hospitalized Friday with a much less severe form of the infection and was in satisfactory condition early today, said Nursing Supervisor Diane Kelder. He was expected to recover.

She said the hospital was stressing there was no threat to the general public. Allegan County health officials noted earlier that teammates, family members and friends of Greenawalt had been given antibiotics as a preventive measure.

Johnson said Greenawalt suffered Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome, an uncommon and severe form of the disease that causes rapid toxemia, extensive cardiac deterioration, bleeding problems and shock. It is usually fatal, Johnson said.

Barbara Hapke of the Allegan County Health Department’s communicable disease department said Greenawalt was the other boy’s coach on a football team.

Jackson was suffering from the most common form of the infection, ″a mild disease with fever,″ said Kelder, while Greenawalt had suffered from a form of the illness that affects just 10 percent of meningococcemia victims.

David DeLongpre, a specialist in internal medicine at Metropolitan, said the bacteria responsible for the infection can be found in the throats of up to 15 percent of the general population.

But the bacteria normally do not cause illness unless there is a sudden alteration, or deterioration, in the patient’s immune system.

″We know he (Greenawalt) was a healthy 15-year-old who was active. Where he contracted it (the severe infection) remains a mystery,″ said DeLongpre.

The bacteria can be spread by close contact. They are saliva-borne and can be passed by coughing or sneezing, he said.