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Q: How do you tell whether you have the flu or a cold?
A: If you have the flu, believe me, you'll know the difference. It will knock you out of commission for several days.
The flu has a sudden onset with symptoms that include high fever and chills, coughing, a runny or congested nose, sore throat, intense fatigue, severe muscle aches and headache.
The common cold is much less severe, with symptoms such as low-grade fever, cough, runny or congested nose, sneezing, and mild sore throat.
To avoid the flu and some miserable days in bed and possibly worse, such as pneumonia, get your flu vaccination as soon as you can.
Q: Instead of getting the flu shot this year, I'm thinking of using the new nasal spray. How well does it work?
A: The FluMist nasal spray, available for the first time this year, appears to be very effective in preventing the flu.
The spray is easy to administer and is attractive for those who are uncomfortable getting stuck by a needle. You'll receive one spray in each nostril.
Unlike the shot, which uses killed viruses, the spray contains live, but weakened, viruses.
The viruses in the spray are sensitive to temperature. They grow well in the nose and throat, but grow poorly in the warmer area of the lungs where the flu sets up shop.
The idea with the spray is to actually cause a mild infection in the upper respiratory tract that does not produce bodywide symptoms. This stimulates the immune system to protect you against the flu.
Symptoms associated with the nasal spray are mild and include temporary sore throat, runny or congested nose and fever.
FluMist is recommended for healthy people 5 to 49 years old as an alternative to the flu shot. The spray is not recommended for pregnant women.
(Richard Harkness is a consultant pharmacist who writes on health care topics. You can write him at 1224 King Henry Drive, Ocean Springs, MS 39564. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Volume of mail prohibits individual replies; selected letters will be answered in his column.)
(c) 2003, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.