A teenager from Loudoun County in Virginia suddenly died after complaining of a headache. The 18-year-old Madison Small was taken to the hospital on Monday night but pronounced dead by Tuesday morning.

The cause of death was initially attributed to a yet unidentified illness, but medical examiners on Friday have finally learned what caused the seemingly healthy teen to become ill so fast and pass away so quickly almost without warning.

Health officials revealed that Small died of meningococcal meningitis, a rare but serious bacterial infection caused by the Neisseria meningitidis. The infection causes the membranes covering the spinal cord and brain to be inflamed. Although it is a vaccine-preventable disease, it is highly deadly without prompt treatment and can cause disability.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the rare infection is transmitted through respiratory and throat excretions and the means include kissing and sharing food. It remains unclear how the high school senior caught the disease, although when she was infected, Small had just returned from a week-long spring break.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, severe headache, stiff neck, vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to light. The infection can be treated using antibiotic if it is identified early enough.

Health officials said that there is currently no concern for a meningitis outbreak, but they are now monitoring those who were in close contact with the teen who played varsity softball.

The Broad Run High School, where Small attended, also took precautionary measures such as disinfecting the lockers of the students twice to ensure safety.

"Our thoughts are with the family during this very difficult time," said the Loudoun County Health Department director David Goodfriend. "The Health Department is evaluating all of the reports that we received to identify whether anyone is at an increased risk of infection."

Small's father Tim said that his daughter was doing fine on Sunday. The two even played catch, but the teenager was in urgent care by Monday afternoon. Although Small was sent home, she woke up in the middle of the night complaining of headaches and other ailments.

Health experts pointed out the importance of washing the hands and getting vaccinated. Goodfriend said that the most effective way to get protected from certain types of bacterial meningitis is completion of the recommended vaccine schedule. It is also important to wash the hand particularly before eating and avoid sharing personal items.

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