An outbreak of the flu has young and old across the county snifflingand wheezing, coughing and sneezing.
Growing numbers have come down with upper respiratory and stomach infections in the past week, county health officials and hospitals reported.
Emergency rooms were crowded over the weekend with people seekingtreatment for fevers, coughs, diarrhea and other flulike symptoms. More than 70 patients were treated for minor complaints at North Arundel Hospital on Saturday and Sunday. Another 10 arrived at the emergency room in Glen Burnie yesterday morning, hospital spokesman Kevin Murnane said.
Another half-dozen cases were reported at Anne ArundelMedical Center over the weekend. Emergency room nurses and physicians are "bracing for a surge in the next couple of weeks," said Joy Adkins, spokeswoman for the Annapolis-based hospital.
Only two cases of influenza have been clinically confirmed in the county. But the number of proven cultures is "just the tip of the tip of the iceberg," warned Dr. Linda Joe, program manager of the Health Department's communicable disease division.
Health officials are investigating an outbreak of the flu at a North County nursing home and several stomachvirus cases at an Annapolis-area nursing home, she said. Once a lab confirms the cultures, the county's clinically confirmed flu count will rise.
"There's no reason at all to believe there are only a couple of cases out there," Joe said. "In the nursing homes, there couldbe as many as 40 people sick."
A particularly severe intestinal virus is spreading across the state. Cases were reported at the Annapolis-area nursing home and both hospital emergency rooms.
Ten nursing homes in Maryland have reported outbreaks of influenzalike illnesses since Dec. 19. The flu season began earlier this year but hasn't been more severe than usual, said Betsy Thompson, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Nursing homes are required to take extra precautions to prevent the disease from spreading, including stopping new admissions and restricting activities of infected residents, she said.
Seniors, chronically ill children, AIDS patients and people with heart and lung diseases are at risk of developing complications and should get a flu shot, Joe said.
Even after borrowing several hundred doses from the Anne Arundel Medical Center to keep up with demand, the county Health Department has used up its supply of the vaccine.
But many physicians in the areastill have doses.
More than 8,000 people were given shots at county health clinics and senior centers, nearly a 40 percent increase over last year.