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Seasonal Cold or Swine Flu? Moms Face Tough Calls

Parents like the author of this article are facing a series of hard choices as flu season begins this fall...

I sent my 11-year-old son to school today with a stuffy nose and mild cough, as I've done countless times in the past. Now, though, I'm wondering whether I should have kept him home. How do I know it's really a garden-variety cold and not the swine flu?

"That's a great question," says Richard Wenzel, a swine flu expert and former president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "You really have no way of knowing if it's the flu or just a cold." Given that we're in the middle of an H1N1 epidemic, he estimates that my son's chances of having this flu are considerable, since some of his friends have had confirmed cases--maybe even as high as 50/50. Even though he doesn't have fever? I press. "At the beginning of the outbreak in Mexico, only 30 percent of patients hospitalized with the infection had fever initially," he tells me, "and 15 percent of patients never developed a fever at all." What usually sent them to the hospital was shortness of breath or chest pain. In Chile, he adds, about half of those with confirmed H1N1 had no fever; many just had a headache and runny nose.

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