Maine student at UNH dies


BANGOR – A young college student from Bangor died suddenly of meningitis Wednesday afternoon while visiting friends at the University of New Hampshire during the winter break.

Health officials in both Maine and New Hampshire hope to get in touch with friends and family members she may have had close contact with to ensure the illness doesn’t spread. Meningitis is not typically spread by casual contact.

Danielle M. Thompson, 21, was a senior at UNH, studying speech pathology. She was the daughter of Kevin and Catherine Thompson of Wing Street in Bangor and graduated from Bangor High School in 2003.

According to a family friend, Thompson had been home with her family for the holidays, but had gone back to UNH to visit friends before classes resumed. She apparently became very ill late Tuesday night and a friend drove her to an area hospital, where she died Wednesday afternoon.

According to a New Hampshire official, Thompson died at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. “The community at large is not at risk,” said Jose Montero, New Hampshire state epidemiologist. “We have already identified what we believe are the high-risk people so they can get the appropriate antibiotics.”

Meningitis is a severe inflammation of the fluid and membranes that surround the brain and spinal column, usually caused by a bacterial infection. The disease is spread by “very close contact” such as kissing or sharing eating utensils, according to Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningitis most often affects young children and the elderly, but some forms are more common among otherwise healthy young adults, she said Wednesday evening.

Staff from the state health office are contacting the young woman’s friends and relatives.

and, if appropriate, they will be placed on preventive antibiotics, Mills said.

Between six and 12 cases of meningitis are reported each year in Maine. In most instances, the victims recover. Only one or two deaths are reported each year.

Symptoms come on “out of the blue,” Mills said, and include a sudden high fever, stiff neck, severe headache and small purple spots on the hands and feet where tiny blood vessels burst. Other symptoms are nausea and vomiting, discomfort looking at bright lights, confusion and sleepiness.

“Fortunately, meningitis is quite rare, but it is extremely tragic when it hits,” Mills said.

The most common form of meningitis can be prevented by a vaccine, which the national CDC recommends for college students who live in dormitories. Mills noted that the vaccine is expensive and often not covered by insurance companies. It was not clear Wednesday evening whether the meningitis that killed Thompson was the type that might have been prevented by the vaccine or whether she had received the vaccine.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.