A 3-week-old infant who had been hospitalized for an infection was apparently abducted from the pediatrics ward at Prince George's Hospital Center yesterday while his mother was visiting the hospital canteen, police and hospital officials said.

"The child needs care -- the child needs to come back here to the hospital for treatment," Prince George's County police spokesman Bruce Gentile said.

"Whoever has the baby needs to know that."

Gentile said authorities had "scoured" the hospital and grounds and planned to make another search there for the baby as soon as evening hospital visitors had cleared out.

The baby, Jeremiah Thate, was reported missing from his crib about 4:50 p.m., according to police.

He had been admitted to the hospital June 8 with a bronchial infection and was in the hospital's pediatric ward with about a dozen other children.

Hospital spokesman Ronald Weitz said the baby, the son of Robert and Terry Thate of Hyattsville, apparently was taken during a 20-minute period when his mother, who was staying at the hospital with the infant, went with her husband to the canteen to get a snack.

She returned and found her son's crib empty.

"Whoever took the child cut the IV {intravenous} tube and removed him from his crib," Weitz said.

"It's just a terribly unfortunate incident that happened in a very short time frame."

The hospital spokesman said the pediatrics department, which is on the sixth floor, had a full staff on duty and adequate security, and that the head nurse called authorities as soon as the mother returned to the ward and discovered the baby was missing. Weitz said police began an immediate search of hospital grounds and vehicles.

Police described the infant as having blondish-brown hair and dark blue eyes, and said he was dressed in an orange hospital gown.

The infant's grandfather, David P. Thate, also of Hyattsville, said last night that his son and daughter-in-law have two other children, aged 2 and 3. Staff writer Retha Hill contributed to this report.