A 16-year-old Laurel girl who first complained of a headache and backache after returning from Christmas shopping on Monday evening died a little over a day later from bacterial meningitis at a Laurel hospital, according to Prince George's County health officials.

Stephanie Lynn Appleman was treated at the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital early Tuesday and later in the day by a family physician, both of whom told her that she had the flu, according to the girl's mother, Dorothy.

She was taken back to the hospital that night, where she died. Symptoms of her disease, including fever, headaches and body pain, are similar to influenza symptoms, according to health authorities.

Hospital officials would not comment on the diagnosis of the girl's illness.

County health officials said Stephanie Appleman's classmates were in no danger of infection. However, as a precaution they visited her school, Laurel High, yesterday and advised her close friends, some of whom had been with Stephanie at a slumber party last weekend, to visit their family doctors for preventive treatment. Members of the Appleman family are already taking antibiotics, Mrs. Appleman said.

Meningitis, an inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord, is a relatively rare and infectious disease, according to Dr. Nigel Jackman, director of community health services for the county health department. Jackman said he knew of three cases in the county since he took his post in July.

On Monday, while shopping with her 17-year-old sister Miriam, Stephanie said she felt faint, according to her mother. After she got home, she took aspirin and went to bed early.

She woke up with a temperature of 103 at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, her mother said, and her parents took her to the emergency room of the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital.

"She said it hurt just to touch her body," Dorothy Appleman said. "They treated her for flu symptoms and sent her home."

Stephanie stayed home from school Tuesday, and at midday her father took her to their family doctor in Laurel, where "they also treated her for viral symptoms," Mrs. Appleman said.

She said the doctor prescribed antibiotics for her daughter. After she took codeine that was already in the home, Stephanie was able to sleep that afternoon.

But when Mrs. Appleman, a computer programmer, returned from work about 5 p.m., " Stephanie was fading in and out."

"She was eating, but she was rambling," the mother recalled. "She was extremely cold--I couldn't even get a reading on the thermometer."

Mrs. Appleman said that she and her husband Robert struggled to raise their daughter's temperature for about 3 hours before taking her to the hospital again.

While she was being treated in the emergency room, Stephanie went into a coma and then suffered a cardiac arrest, which resulted in her death within two hours after she arrived at the hospital, according to an attending physician.

Mrs. Appleman said she was told that the diagnosis was not made sooner because "she didn't seem to have the stiff neck associated with meningitis."