Meningitis Suspected in Santee Woman's Death

Jackie Lerma Billings went to the hospital Friday with flu-like symptoms. By Sunday, she was in a coma.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Santee woman Jackie Lerma Billings, 52, is the second local meningitis victim in just three days. According to her family, the illness came on suddenly. NBC 7’s Rory Devine reports.

    A Santee woman who died suddenly may be the second person in a week to contract meningitis in San Diego County.

    Santee resident Jackie Lerma Billings, 52, died Monday and showed strains of meningitis according to the San Diego County medical examiner's office.

    Billings' brother talked with NBC 7 Monday night and said his sister was admitted to Sharp Memorial Hospital Friday with flu-like symptoms.

    "We thought she had the simple flu. Simply coming down with a cold," Greg Lerma said.

    After getting antibiotics, Billings’ request to go home was granted by doctors and she was feeling better at first, even laughing on Saturday, Lerma said.

    But she soon became sick again and was hospitalized Saturday. By Sunday, she was in a coma.

    Lerma told NBC 7 doctors put her on life support while they determine if her organs can be donated.

    Her husband received a kidney transplant, so the family understands the importance of organ donations.

    Meanwhile, Billings’ relatives began saying their goodbyes Monday.

    “It happens so quickly,” said Lerma. “It’s too late before they even figure out you even have it, and at that point, there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing you can do.”

    Remembered as a loving mother and grandmother, Billings’ family said she was a fixture at a Starbucks where she worked, a one-time cheerleading coordinator at Santana High School and a major influence in the City of Santee.

    “Trying to stay strong for the family, as strong as I can, but I was very close to my sister, too,” said Lerma. “I talked to her on a daily basis, and this is just so unreal.”

    If tests confirm meningitis, Lerma would be the second person in a week to contract the disease in San Diego County.

    Lerma said doctors were waiting on tests to determine if it was meningitis that sickened Billings and if so, whether it was the same strain that is suspected of killing 14-year-old Jewelean Pimentel.

    The Patrick Henry High School 9th grader last attended class Feb. 11 - the day she began feeling sick.

    Lerma said he feels for the Pimentel family during this tragic time.

    Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include a sudden fever, headache and stiff neck.

    Another meningococcal risk is bloodstream infection which can result in fatigue, vomiting and other symptoms including a purple rash. 

    Symptoms typically develop 3 - 7 days after exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    A vaccine is available to prevent certain strains of meningitis, and it's recommended for children 11 to 18 years old. Shots are available through county public health centers.