UPDATE: Perry High student dies of meningococcal disease

Brittany Jones, a 17-year-old Perry High School student, died Sunday of meningococcal disease, a dangerous and contagious bacterial infection.

The disease is spread through saliva; shaking hands or sitting near a person who has the disease will not cause harm, said Jennifer Jones, public information officer for the 13-county health district that includes Houston. Jennifer Jones is not related to Brittany Jones.

In compliance with federal laws, the health district did not release the teen's name. The Telegraph obtained her name and memorial information from Watson-King Funeral Home in Perry.

On Monday, officials at the health district contacted the young woman's family members and close friends who could be at risk and started them on preventive antibiotics, Jennifer Jones said.

The health district sent a communicable disease expert Tuesday to check the accuracy of reports that Brittany Jones worked at a restaurant in Perry. Tuesday afternoon, Jennifer Jones could not confirm where the young woman worked but emphasized that her age would have prevented her from serving food in a restaurant that also served alcohol.

"Even if she did serve food, the transmission risk is so low there shouldn't be a concern," Jennifer Jones said.

German Gonzalez, district epidemiologist, said a carrier of meningococcal disease would have to spend several hours sitting with someone else and coughing, or share an entire bottle of soda or something similar, in order to transmit the disease.

The disease can develop into meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. But the Perry teen had a more broad infection that invades the bloodstream and affects all organs, Gonzalez said.

According to the funeral home, a memorial service for Brittany Jones is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday at Perry High School. Visitation will be 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Crosspoint Baptist Church in Perry. The funeral service will be 4 p.m. Friday at Stillwater Chapel in Ideal, with graveside services to follow at Ellaville City Cemetery.

Brittany Jones was the daughter of Athena Sharp of Perry and David Jones of Spring Hill, Fla., and stepdaughter of Bill Sharp of Perry and Christle Jones of Spring Hill, Fla.

Health district officials helped the Houston County School District draft a letter to send home with Perry High School students today, notifying them and their parents about what happened and providing information about the disease.

Jennifer Jones said students who were in the same class with Brittany Jones, or who were otherwise casually exposed to her, do not face enough risk to need antibiotics.

Two vaccines against the disease are available if parents are concerned, she added. The vaccine manactra is available through the health department, and private physicians may also have menomune, she said.

Gonzalez said the vaccine was once only recommended for high school students preparing for college, recruits going into the military and others that expected to be living in a confined space with many other people. It is now recommended for all young people age 11 and up.

According to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal disease include high fever, headache, stiff neck, or a development of a dark purple rash. These symptoms may at first appear similar to flu, but can progress quickly to serious illness within 12 to 24 hours.