RIFLE, Colorado - Public health officials have determined influenza to be the cause of death of a Rifle High School student who died on Monday. It was the first pediatric flu death reported in Colorado this season.
Austin Booth, 17, a junior at RHS, was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction last week with pneumonia. A rapid test done before he died came back positive for the flu, according to Garfield County Public Health officials.
Booth did not have any underlying health problems that might have contributed to his death, officials said.
"A community grieves when one of its own is lost," Garfield County Public Health Director Mary Meisner said in a written statement issued Tuesday. "This loss tragically reminds us that the flu is circulating and just how deadly it can be."
The Garfield Re-2 School District posted a statement from Superintendent Susan Birdsey on the district website Monday, partly in an attempt to dispel rumors that the teen suffered spinal meningitis, another serious illness.
"The loss of any student or staff member is tragic, especially someone so young," Birdsey said. "Our thoughts and our prayers are with his family in this time of need."
Even though school was out of session Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Re-2 Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton said counselors were made available that afternoon for any students needing support.
School resumed on Tuesday, and counselors will continue to be available for as long as need be, she said.
Booth was the son of Carl and Gina Booth, and one of five children in the family. He was new to RHS this school year, as the family just moved to the area from Texas last year.
Austin played football in the fall and was on the varsity basketball team this winter. Last Saturday, the team dedicated its home game against Aspen to their ailing teammate. The Bears won, 59-48.
The RHS boys and girls basketball games at Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum for Tuesday night were postponed, and a dual wrestling meet scheduled for tonight was also called off.
"Austin was a great kid who fit into Rifle High in many ways in just a short amount of time here," varsity basketball coach Chris Lowther said. "He became part of the community and the school almost instantly.
"Our team motto this season has been to do our best to stick together," Lowther said. "We didn't know how much that would mean or be tested until now. That's what we're trying to do, to just be supportive of each other as best we can."
As a student-athlete, Lowther said Booth was a role model.
"He was someone who attracted his teammates to that work ethic, and helped with our goal of staying together as a team," he said. "He played hard all the time, regardless of the score."
Hamilton indicated that Re-2 schools have not seen a huge outbreak of flu cases since school resumed after the holiday break last week. But winter is flu season and proper precautions are being urged, she said.
Any child who has not received a flu shot this year is encouraged to get one. Garfield County Public Health is offering a vaccine clinic from 2 to 7 p.m. today at its Rifle and Glenwood Springs locations for school-aged children and their families.
The Re-2 School District issued a list of precautions students and athletes can take to prevent the spread of flu:
• Wash hands, working up a good lather with soap and water, frequently throughout the day, and always before eating.
• Use hand sanitizer as an alternative to hand-washing. Extra hand sanitizer stations were installed in schools in the district last year.
• Stay home from school if flu-like symptoms occur, such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills or fatigue.
• Students who have been sick with the flu or severe colds should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
• Athletes should not share water bottles during practices or games.
• Spray down athletic equipment with disinfectant after each use.
• Take a shower immediately after practices and matches.
• Cover wounds with clean, dry bandages.
• Don't share personal hygiene items such as bar soap, towels or razors.
"Our custodians clean on a regular basis with disinfectants that are bactericides, tuberculocides, fungicides, and virucides," Birdsey reported. "In short, they kill a lot of stuff. We do this to be as effective as possible against the pathogens that we are collectively exposed to."
More information about flu prevention can be obtained at www.flu.gov.