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A Colorado teacher has died of bacterial meningitis. What is it?

The Cherry Creek School District canceled classes, sports and activity to allow for contract tracing.
/ Source: TODAY

A Colorado high school teacher died over the weekend after showing "symptoms consistent with bacterial meningitis," according to her school district. The illness, which occurs when bacteria infect the membranes around the spinal cord and brain, is contagious.

Eaglecrest High School, where teacher Maddie Schmidt worked, canceled after-school activities and sports on Tuesday, as well as school and activities on Wednesday, to aid in contract tracing and "determine next steps," explained a letter from the Cherry Creek School District sent to the school community and shared with

A second educator in the school district also died over the weekend, but it is unclear if the deaths are related, local NBC affiliate 9News Denver reported, adding that Arapahoe County has only confirmed one case of bacterial meningitis.

“We take this matter very seriously and are working closely with Arapahoe County Public Health (ACPH) to identify students or staff who may have been in close contact with the infected staff person. Arapahoe County Public Health will reach out directly to all staff members and families of students determined to be close contact. Those individuals will be offered preventative antibiotics,” the school district said in the letter.

The Arapahoe County Health Department is "tracking to see if anyone has symptoms from the exposure,” spokesperson Anders Nelson told 9News. “It takes one to 10 days to see symptoms, but typically they see symptoms within three to four days.”

Bacterial meningitis is a “serious” bacterial infection where the protective membranes in the brain and spinal cord become inflamed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In some cases, people die soon after infection. But the agency says that people can recover from it.

Signs of bacterial meningitis include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Disorientation

Bacterial meningitis can be spread through contact with saliva of an infected person or discharges from their nose or throat. People who are infected but don't yet have symptoms can be contagious. An infected person is usually no longer contagious after they've taken antibiotics for 24 hours.

The bacteria that cause meningitis spread easily in communal situations, according to the CDC, which is why outbreaks often occur on college campuses. It spreads through kissing, coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils, glassware and living spaces.

Babies, elderly people and people with certain medical conditions experience an increased risk of contracting bacterial meningitis. It’s important for people to see a doctor if they suspect they might have bacterial meningitis because it can cause seizures, comas and death, if left untreated, according to the CDC.

“It can be extremely serious, as in fatal,” Dr. Christina Johns, vice president of communication at PM Pediatrics, told in 2018. “This is not something to mess around with.”