Rifle teen first juvenile flu death in Colorado this season

A Rifle High School junior and athlete is the first person in Colorado to die of the flu this flu season.

Austin Booth, 17, died Monday morning. He had been admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction last week.

Booth was a first-year student at Rifle High and a member of the varsity basketball team. He also played on the football team.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. It’s tough to lose a student. It really is,” said Theresa Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Garfield County Re-2 School District.

The district had been fighting rumors that other complicating factors or illnesses might have caused Booth’s death. In a news release, Garfield County and state health officials said the flu victim — whom they identified only as a Garfield County resident — had no underlying health conditions that may have contributed to the death.

More than 135 people have been hospitalized with the flu across the state since Oct. 3.

“This loss tragically reminds us that the flu is circulating and just how deadly it can be,” said Mary Meisner, director of the Garfield County Public Health Department.

State and federal health officials are urging people to get a flu shot, something the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for everyone over 6 months old. This year’s vaccine includes protection against H1N1, which federal officials believe caused about 12,000 deaths the last flu season.

In 2009, a 7-year-old student at Wamsley Elementary School in Rifle died after contracting H1N1.

Hamilton said the district long has encouraged students and staff to follow precautionary measures such as washing hands, getting flu shots, and not sharing water bottles. District janitors also use cleaning agents designed to kill pathogens.

“We’ll probably increase the frequency of maybe the cleaning of light switches and door handles and things like that,” she said.

She said the district hasn’t experienced a high recent rate of absenteeism because of the flu.

The district has made counselors available to high school students to help them cope with Booth’s death.

Rifle canceled Tuesday night’s boys and girls basketball games against Eagle Valley. Rifle also canceled today’s wrestling dual meet against Delta.

“We aren’t playing (Tuesday) out of respect for Austin’s family,” Rifle coach Chris Lowther said. “We have some open dates later in the year we can move it to, and Eagle Valley was very understanding.”

Booth moved to Rifle from Texas in July and immersed himself in sports.

“When he came to Rifle he befriended everyone and fit in right away,” Lowther said. “He came into our program and was one of our brothers. He quickly won over the other guys and was a part of our team.”

Lowther said the team still was trying to cope with Booth’s death Tuesday.

“We are doing our best to stay together as a team,” Lowther said. “We don’t really know how to handle things.”

Booth played in seven games for the Bears and will still be a part of the Rifle basketball team.

Lowther said the Bears will do their best to honor Booth this weekend when they host Roaring Fork on Friday and at Olathe on Saturday.

“We will wear his name and number on our warmups,” Lowther said. “We’ll continue to have him in the scorebook every game and always save him a seat on the bench.”

Sentinel sports reporter Patrick Bahr contributed to this report.


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