The French have a better word for it.

They call the flu "la grippe," which comes from a word meaning "to seize."

That's just what the flu seemingly has done to more Carroll residents than usual this year.

Because an accurate tally of flu cases is not required, no one has exact numbers. But doctors and officials at Carroll County General Hospital and the Health Department say record numbers appear to be coming down with severe flu symptoms and complications.

"It seems like everybody's sick," said Larry L. Leitch,the Health Department's deputy director. "I was at church yesterday and everyone was hacking, coughing and sneezing their heads off."

Carroll County General Hospital has hit 100 percent capacity this week, mostly because of people admitted for complications from the flu, said Gill Chamblin, director of public relations. The emergency room has been seeing 20 more people a day than the usual 60 or 70, she said.

Most of those extra people are elderly or very young children suffering from dehydration as a complication of the flu, said Dr. Isadore "Buddy" Feldman, an emergency room physician.

"The problem is that it's such a virulent and nasty flu this year that older people and kids are getting sicker and it's lasting two weeks or more, instead of a few days," Feldman said.

"There is no cure for the flu -- basically, you just treat the symptoms," Feldman said. "Most people come in thinking you can give them some antibiotics and they'll feel better the next day."

Although nothing can cure it, there is a prescription drug called Amantadine that can greatly reduce the severity if taken soon after the onset of symptoms, said Dr. James Forsberg, a staff physician at Prompt Care, a walk-in clinic on Washington Road in Westminster.

Forsberg said his clinic also has seen an increase in the number of flu patients and severity of symptoms this year, buthe and the other physicians there haven't had to hospitalize anyone for the illness.

But just the fact that people are coming in indicates this year's "Beijing flu" strain is strong and one to which manypeople have not developed an immunity from past exposure, health practitioners say.

The Health Department's only statistical indicatorof the prevalence of the illness is a requirement that schools report whenever their absentee rates exceed 10 percent because of flu or flu-like symptoms. So far, 12 county schools have reported, which is higher than in previous years, Leitch said.

Edwin L. Davis, Carroll's director of pupil services and special programs, said there have been no reports of schools reaching 10 percent absenteeism since classes resumed Monday.

"One of the things break may have done was helpkids get over (sickness)," he said.

The flu's symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, coughs and other respiratory symptoms, Forsberg said.

Gastrointestinal upset is due to viruses other than influenza, he said.

"People will talk about the 'stomach flu.' It may be viral, but it isn't the flu," he said.

It's probably too late for anyone to get a flu shot now, he said, because it takes the body several weeks to build immunity after the shot.

The flu season will be over by then, and it may not protect against next year's virus.

However, elderly people and those with chronic respiratory problems, diabetes and other weakening conditions may want to get a pneumonia vaccination, he said.

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