updated 1/5/2007 3:36:55 PM ET 2007-01-05T20:36:55

More than 80 people in three states may be at risk for meningitis after coming into contact with a University of New Hampshire student who died of the illness this week, health officials said.

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The warning came amid another meningitis scare that shut down schools Thursday and Friday in three towns in Rhode Island.

The college student, 21-year-old Danielle Thompson, had been in her home state of Maine, as well as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in the 10 days before she was admitted to a Dover hospital. She died of bacterial meningitis on Wednesday.

Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen said the state has identified 29 people in New Hampshire and 55 in Maine who should receive antibiotics. Officials were still tracking down how many people Thompson visited in Massachusetts.

No one has yet shown symptoms, Stephen said.

Bacterial meningitis can be spread through saliva, creating the most risk for people who shared food or drinks, kissed or used the same eating utensils. It causes an infection of fluid in the spinal cord and surrounding the brain, with symptoms include high fever, headache and stiff neck.

“This case underscores just how serious this illness can be,” Stephen said.

In Rhode Island, epidemiologists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with state officials investigating a possible case of meningitis and three cases of encephalitis that surfaced in public school children. One second-grader in Warwick died from encephalitis that was brought on by “walking pneumonia.”

Dr. David Gifford, director of Rhode Island’s Public Health Department, said there have been an unusually high number of walking pneumonia cases in the children’s communities.

As a precaution, classes for about 20,000 students in those communities — Warwick, West Warwick and Coventry — were cancelled Thursday and Friday while health experts investigate, Gifford said.

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