Three school systems in western Virginia were closed yesterday after three children were hospitalized with viral meningitis, health authorities said.

The three students were in good condition at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, said Dr. Frank W. Price of the state Health Department. Two other children have been hospitalized at Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington with meningococcemia, a less serious form of the sometimes fatal ailment, he said.

Four of the children attend Brownsburg Middle School there and a fifth attends Mountain View Elementary. All ride on a bus each day with 65 other children, said James Jay, superintendent of Rockbridge County schools.

The disease may have been spread during a bus ride last week, he said. The children became sick during the weekend.

"They all got sick at the same time, indicating a common exposure. We're not sure what that was," Price said in an interview. "We usually see a few cases each year, but not often in a cluster like this."

Meningococcemia is caused by the same virus that causes meningitis and can develop into meningitis, which is sometimes fatal, Price said.

He said the children are ages 11 to 14.

Family members requested their names not be released, he said.