UM student dies in sorority house Meningitis suspected. Students close to victim urged to take antibiotics.

April 09, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki and Lou Ferrara

COLLEGE PARK -- While police today attempted to determine the exact cause of death of a 21-year-old senior found in her sorority house bedroom yesterday, University of Maryland and county health officials today were distributing antibiotics to prevent a potential outbreak of spinal meningitis.

The body of Jennifer Lynn Jones, 21, of Merritt Island, Fla., was discovered about 6 p.m. in her room at the Delta Delta Delta house in the 4600 block of College Ave., just east of the campus, said Prince George's County Police Capt. James White.

Ms. Jones was a marketing major and had transferred to College Park from Michigan State University.

"She was found . . . in her bed," Captain White said. "We don't have any indication that it's foul play or that it's a suicide."

The woman's body was removed to the state Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore. A spokesman there said results of the autopsy wouldn't be ready until Monday because extensive laboratory tests must be completed.

A preliminary investigation by assistant state medical examiner Paul DeVore showed that the cause of death probably was spinal meningitis. That disease is caused by either a viral or bacterial infection that works its way to the spinal cord and brain.

Infection occurs two to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache and nausea. The bacterial strain can be treated with antibiotics while the viral variety does not respond to antibiotic therapy.

A story published today in the UM student newspaper, The Diamondback, said Ms. Jones had been treated at the campus health center and was prescribed a medication.

Dr. Doris Makarai, a physician at the health center, said today no one matching Ms. Jones' description sought treatment there during past week. However, she said officials were making a "more thorough check" to see if the senior had been treated on campus.

Margaret Bridwell, the health center director, said early indications show Ms. Jones probably had contracted the bacterial strain of meningitis because of other symptoms the victim had, including a skin rash.

Ms. Bridwell said any student who had intimate contact with the victim was advised to begin taking an antibiotic called Rifampin. The drug was available at the health center, she said.

The germ can be passed through sharing food and drink and kissing or through airborne-dispersed germs discharged through coughing or sneezing.

Officials said the victim's boyfriend, who was not identified, has been started on medication and all residents of the sorority house will meet with county medical officers this morning and most will probably be placed on the medication.

The woman's death occurred in the middle of Greek week, which is marked with annual parties and other festivities.

Four independent sources said Ms. Jones did not participate in her sorority's celebration the night before she was found dead. On Tuesday, she went to bed about 10 p.m., according to those sources.

Neither the sorority house mother nor Delta Delta Delta members would comment today.

Joe Nawrozki is a staff writer and Lou Ferrara is a contributing writer from College Park.

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