UPDATE: Cause of death may be found

A rare blood infection is the suspected cause of death of FAMU broadcast student Courtney Simms. Simms, 22, a fourth-year student from Gary, Ind. fell ill Monday and was taken to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital by her boyfriend Seth Williams.Dr. Marjorie Kirsch, medical director of the Leon County Health Department, said her office was contacted of a suspected case this morning.“We did have a case reported to us this morning that a FAMU student had passed away from suspected meningococcemia, which is a blood infection. Not necessarily meningitis although you can have both,” Kirsch said.The medical director described meningitis as an infection that surrounds the brain, while meningococcemia is a germ that causes an overwhelming infection in the blood.“Unfortunately the meningococcemia can be more severe and people can go downhill much more rapidly,” Kirsch said.By law, any suspected case of either meningitis or meningococcemia caused by this bacteria must be reported to the health department.“The diagnosis is not confirmed,” Kirsch said. “It takes a couple of days to identify the bacteria that causes an illness such as that. It was reported as a suspected case.” The germ that causes meningococcemia, myceria meningitities, is a common germ.“Many of us carry it in our throat,” Kirsch said. “It’s not a rare germ. It just rarely causes illness… maybe 10-percent of us carry it.”Kirsch stresses that it is not something that you have to be afraid of. “Unfortunately about 1 in 100,000 people will become seriously ill. In our town since we have about 300,000 people we’re going to expect a few cases each year.” Simms was a spokesperson for Fashion Fair Cosmetics in 2007 and was a former anchor of FAMU-TV 20. She also was a member of the Presidential Ambassadors and FAMU Images Modeling Troupe. This summer, Simms was an intern at WTXL-27 in Tallahassee. “This is such a great loss,” said Dean James Hawkins, who learned the news from Dorothy Bland, director of the division of journalism. “It breaks the heart of everyone here at the school…she was extremely active,” he added.Professor Kenneth Jones, in the broadcast sequence advised Simms during her tenure at FAMU, said she was dynamic.“She helped us establish our first newscast [on FAMU-TV 20],” Jones said. “She also called Obama [as winner] during our special election show.”Simms expected to graduate this Fall, according to Jones.Plans for a memorial service are pending, according to Hawkins.Check back with thefamuanonline.com for updates on this story.