An Aug. 9 Metro article that mentioned a conference held at the University of Maryland misstated the name of organization behind the event. The group is the National Student Leadership Conference, not the National Youth Leadership Conference. (Published 10/22/2004)

About 70 teenagers staying at the University of Maryland for a youth leadership program were taken to hospitals yesterday after experiencing signs of digestive distress, authorities said.

The youths, based at the College Park campus while attending a National Youth Leadership Conference program, were taken to Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham and Washington Adventist Hospital with nausea or similar symptoms, authorities said.

Almost all of the youths had been released by late last night or were expected to be released early this morning. However, a spokeswoman for Doctors Community Hospital, where 52 youths were taken, said she expected that four would probably be admitted.

Authorities said that the youths' symptoms appeared similar to those of food poisoning, but that no specific cause of the problems had been determined as of early today.

"It appears to be a food-borne problem, but this has not been confirmed," said Jim Keary, a Prince George's County government spokesman.

It was also unclear when the symptoms began. A parent of one youth said he had heard that some youths may have experienced problems as early as Saturday. Many suffered symptoms of increasing severity through the day yesterday, he said.

The two-week leadership program began last Monday and was devoted to medicine and health care, according to the leadership group's Web site. Youths, mainly of high school age, came from across the country for the program, with some from the Washington area.

One was Sherry Vittel, 16, of Burke, who had complained of nausea and vomiting, according to her father, Robert Vittel.

"Some of the kids got sick, I heard," Saturday, Vittel said in a telephone interview from Doctors Community Hospital, where he had gone to get his daughter. "Some were sick early in the morning [yesterday], some in early afternoon, like my daughter; some in later afternoon, some" last night, Vittel said.

Because of the gradual onset of symptoms, Vittel suggested, it might be difficult to pinpoint the precise cause of the outbreak. The Prince George's County Health Department was investigating the incident.

Vittel said his daughter -- a student at Lake Braddock High School -- would return with him to the family home in Burke last night rather than return to the campus dormitory where program participants were staying.

"I'm taking her home and keeping her home until she feels better," Vittel said.

He said the youths had been at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore yesterday as part of a "free day" in the medicine and health care program.

A county government spokesman estimated that about 300 students were at the College Park campus for the program. According to the Leadership Conference Web site, the group has been providing educational programs on several themes for about 15 years. The health care program, according to the Web site, offers the opportunity to meet doctors and researchers, visit health-related institutions and ponder controversial medical issues.

At Washington Adventist Hospital, where about 20 students were taken last night, about five students had been released by about 11:15 p.m., and none was expected to stay there for the night.

A hospital spokeswoman said that all the youths appeared to be in good condition and that they were given liquids to rehydrate after getting sick.

"They're all going to be fine," Cheryl McKy said.

At Doctors Community Hospital, spokeswoman Mary Dudley said the 52 youths brought there with symptoms that included vomiting were "being treated for possible food poisoning."

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.