FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- A third man who played in a recreational hockey league game (Fort Collins Adult Hockey Association) at EPIC Arena in Fort Collins has been hospitalized with a critical case of meningitis days after another player died, health officials said Friday.
This makes four confirmed meningitis cases in Larimer County since Memorial Day Weekend. A fifth patient was hospitalized, but lab tests did not confirm the bacterial infection.
All three hockey players played in a 7:15 p.m. game June 9 in Division C of the adult league at EPIC Arena, formally called the Edora Pool and Ice Center, said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, director of the Larimer County Health Department.
One hockey player, 29-year-old Brian Wormus, died Monday at Poudre Valley Hospital. A second man, who played for the SuperMarket Liquors team against Wormus's Teamsters team that night, remained in critical condition at the same hospital Friday.
The third hockey player to contract meningitis, who played on Wormus' team, left for a family camping trip in Montana June 12 before teammates or public health officials could alert him about the possible exposure, LeBailly said during a Friday teleconference on the outbreak.
He became ill Wednesday and was taken to a small town hospital where doctors quickly diagnosed him as having lethal blood poisoning from the meningitis infection, she said. He was immediately transferred to a bigger Montana hospital where he remains in critical condition.
“(It) is almost certainly connected to the confirmed cases" from the June 9 hockey game, LeBailly said.
She called the hockey game outbreak extremely rare.
"This outbreak is quite unusual to have three confirmed, serious cases all in one event that occurred on one night," LeBailly said.
“This is such a tragic situation,” she added. "We will continue to follow up on our investigation and treatment of contacts so that we can try to prevent further meningococcal illness.”
Health officials have provided antibiotics and/or vaccinations to referees and players on the two teams from the June 9 game and are now also offering the preventive medication to two teams that played later that night.
Officials are also tracking household members of players who had direct exposure to the infected men.
Bacterial meningitis is a severe infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord. It is treatable with medication, especially when caught in the early stages.
Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, neck stiffness, exhaustion and confusion and sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, LeBailly said.
The infection is spread by contact with saliva and other oral secretions, for example, when people share water bottles, utensils or come into contact with mucus from a runny nose, LeBailly said.
She speculated that the hockey players might have been exposed to saliva after removing mouth guards and shaking hands at the end of the game.
LeBailly stressed that the bacteria isn't hardy enough to survive outside a person's body. So it would die swiftly, for example, in the locker rooms, pool and hockey rink facilities at the arena.
“So facilities are not an issue," she said. "It is still safe to swim at EPIC, to play hockey at EPIC.”
On the website for the Fort Collins Adult Hockey Association, President Paul Thompson offered "deep regret and sorrow (over) the loss of one of our own, Brian Wormus."
Thompson said the health department has treated more than 30 players and referees with antibiotics.
LeBailly said health officials also will be attending the games of other hockey leagues to answer questions and provide information. She said people who haven't had direct contact with infected players do not require treatment.
Thompson advised players to be "mindful of regularly washing your hands, not sharing water bottles and beverages, not spitting in the bench areas, being careful of contamination of mouth guards and keeping gloves on in the handshake line."
A fourth patient, who attends Colorado State University and had no connection to hockey games, became sick over the Memorial Day Weekend with a confirmed case of meningitis, LeBailly said That patient survived and is undergoing rehabilitation at a Denver area hospital.
A fifth patient, with no connection to the hockey team or EPIC arena, was admitted June 14 at Poudre Valley Hospital, the same day Wormus and another hockey player were hospitalized there, LeBailly said. But tests for the non-hockey patient, who has been released and is doing well, did not confirm meningococcal infection.
Patient 1: A Colorado State University student who got sick Memorial Day weekend and is in critical condition in a Denver-area hospital.
Patient 2: Wormus, who died Monday.
Patient 3: The hockey player who played on June 9 and then again on June 12, and is in critical condition at Poudre Valley Hospital.
Patient 4: Is not connected to the other victims but who also fell ill on the same day as Wormus. That person may have had a case of viral meningitis and has since been treated and released.
Patient 5: The player on Wormus' team who fell ill in Montana.