You may be coming down with the flu. Undoubtedly you've been having this thought for days. You're never quite sure. You keep quizzing friends and colleagues about how you can tell if you're getting the dreaded plague. Today I'll tell you how to spot the symptoms. If you have even one symptom, you are, indeed, coming down with the flu:

1. You feel somewhat "out of sorts."

2. If you look toward the sun it seems really bright.

3. Your forehead feels not only warm but HARD. There's almost no "give" to it.

4. When you wash your hands in the bathroom and attempt to dry them on a paper towel, there seems to be residual moisture, particularly in the finger webbing.

5. You are unusually aware of sensations in the back of your throat -- and yet despite that, can't detect the presence of that strange dangling thing known as the uvula.

6. When you look at yourself closely in a mirror your pores look unusually large and the small hairs on your lower eyelid are droopy.

7. You are confused about certain stories in the news. Let's discuss this in depth.

Many people coming down with the flu complain, for example, that they don't understand how a wet-behind-the-ears company like America Online, which hasn't even gotten around to putting up a sign outside its corporate headquarters, can buy a media giant like Time Warner.

"How can a company that wasn't protifable in 1995 be buying Time Warner?" asks Bill Whyman, Internet strategist with Legg Mason's Precursor Group in Washington. Not being a flu victim, he knows the answer: "There's a fundamental change in the relationship between assets and value creation in the economy."

Which means, it doesn't matter that a steel company has lots of huge steel mills and tens of thousands of trained employees and massive amounts of inventory and even a decent profit flow. What matters is value, which means future cash flow. Whyman says of AOL, "They have 22 million loyal, sticky subscription relationships."

But wait! Since the announcement of the deal, AOL's price has plunged. It fell again this morning. So did Time Warner. The sell-off may put the deal in jeopardy.

"If the stock continues to fall, it will raise a lot of questions," Whyman says.

And the final flu symptom:

8. Mysterious eyeball veins.

Progression of the illness is catastrophically rapid. In an hour you will have a sore throat, in two hours, a hacking cough, and in three hours you will be expelling the entirety of certain internal organs such as the spleen.

You should drink plenty of water and simultaneously surf over to the flu reports at the Centers for Disease Control. Since influenza is, in fact, a potentially lethal illness, we'll tell you what the CDC actually says about symptoms:

"Typical clinical features of flu include fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. Children may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea but such symptoms are not common in adults. Although the term `stomach flu' is sometimes used to describe gastrointestinal illnesses, this is caused by other microorganisms and is not related to true influenza."

Here's an odd fact: Massive media coverage aside, there's not a lot of evidence, other than anecdotes, that this flu season is unusually harsh or that flu shots aren't working properly. The CDC says that the flu circulating this year is apparently the same as the one from last year and the year before -- what they call the "A/Sydney/5/97-like (H3N2)" virus.

Which, you have to admit, sounds awful. And no doubt it was particularly bad for poor Sydney.

(Rough Draft currently appears three times a week at washingtonpost.com and may result in glassy eyes and a tendency to drool. Medical authorities report progress in developing a vaccine.)