An outbreak of the flu has emptied classrooms and forced two county nursing homes to isolate sick patients in recent weeks.

With the flu bug rampant, more than 15 of Anne Arundel's 121 public schools reported a 10 percent to 15 percent absentee rate in January. The numberof children calling in sick or leaving school early has slowed sincelate January, said Betsy Rice, coordinator of health issues for the school system.

At the same time, the county Health Department is investigating three confirmed cases of influenza in two county nursing homes. A number of patients have mild symptoms of the disease, but only three needed to be isolated so far, said department spokeswoman Evelyn Stein.

Stein declined to identify the nursing homes, but said health officials have taken cultures to investigate what type of flu is going around.

Anne Arundel County appears to have been spared the worst of the flu outbreak so far, Stein said. Some school systems in Maryland have reported absentee rates as high as 40 percent.

Stein said a 10 percent absentee rate is not unusual, especially because some children may have caught other common illnesses, such as colds or chicken pox. The problem only is reported to the Health Department when 20 percent of the students are absent, she said.

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