An 11-year-old Prince George's County sixth grader has died of a highly contagious form of meningitis, prompting health officials to warn parents of her Suitland elementary school's nearly 300 pupils.

After the death Thursday, county health officials made 130 phone calls to the families of pupils who spent time with her. Health officials continued calling parents yesterday out of heightened concern because the girl, who attended classes in a combined fifth- and sixth-grade room, also had contact with younger pupils as a volunteer in the second grade.

The child died of meningococcal meningitis, a highly contagious form of the bacterial disease that results in an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It can be transmitted by direct contact through such actions as coughing, sneezing or sharing a drink.

"This child opened milk cans and helped care for the children. She might have hugged them. She might have kissed them. She might have chewed on her pencil and given it to another child," said Dr. Ellen Gurski, director of epidemiology for the Prince George's County Health Department.

The student, whose name has not been disclosed, attended classes at Edgar Allan Poe School in Suitland all day Wednesday and did not complain of illness, school officials said yesterday.

"When she got home, she complained of not feeling well. She had a fever and a rash. Her parents put her to bed and when they checked . . . she was comatose," said county school spokeswoman Bonnie Jenkins.

The child was taken to Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base early Thursday, where she was pronounced dead, Gurski said.

School officials were notified Thursday afternoon and sent pupils home Friday with fact sheets about meningitis, which can be treated by a drug, Riframbin.

Gurski urged parents yesterday not to panic. She said the symptoms of meningitis -- sudden fever, stiff neck, nausea, headache and rash -- could indicate other ailments.

"We called a house and the mother said yes, her child had been out {of school} with a stiff neck. But the child plays football. It could be a strained neck from football, but because he was in the same classroom with the child, we suggested calling their pediatrician."

When health officials contacted parents, Gurski said, "If we had any reports of illness, we interviewed them and suggested that there be an immediate medical follow-up . . . . We also called 30 households where a child was absent from school."

She said there were 12 reports of some kind of illness, including three that were suspicious enough for her staff to contact the families' physicians, or urge parents to take their children to their doctors.

Meningitis can be detected by blood tests and spinal taps, but officials said testing is recommended only when symptoms are evident. The decision about testing should be left to family physicians, they said.

Two years ago, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt died a week before graduation from a bacterial infection related to meningitis. The procedure school officials are following now is similar to the one used then: notify families, recommend possible testing of fellow students and suggest preventive drugs.

None of the students tested two years ago had the disease, Jenkins said. Sixty-two cases of meningitis were reported in Prince George's last year, Gurski said. Figures were unavailable for 1988.

There has been at least one confirmed case of meningitis at D.C. General Hospital this year, according to an official familiar with the case. It was a child. The official declined to discuss two suspected cases of meningitis, one of which involved a death.