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Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae (the influenza viruses), that affects birds and mammals. The most common symptoms of the disease are chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, weakness/fatigue and general discomfort. Although it is often confused with other influenza-like illnesses, especially the common cold, influenza is a more severe disease than the common cold and is caused by a different type of virus. Influenza may produce nausea and vomiting, particularly in children, but these symptoms are more common in the unrelated gastroenteritis, which is sometimes called inaccurately "stomach flu." Flu can occasionally cause either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia. Typically, influenza is transmitted through the air by coughs or sneezes, creating aerosols containing the virus. Influenza can also be transmitted by direct contact with bird droppings or nasal secretions, or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Airborne aerosols have been thought to cause most infections, although which means of transmission is most important is not absolutely clear. Influenza viruses can be inactivated by sunlight, disinfectants and detergents. As the virus can be inactivated by soap, frequent hand washing reduces the risk of infection. Influenza spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics, resulting in the deaths of between 250,000 and 500,000 people every year, up to millions in some pandemic years. On average 41,400 people died each year in the United States between 1979 and 2001 from influenza. In 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States changed the way it reports the 30 year estimates for deaths. Now they are reported as a range from a low of about 3,300 deaths to a high of 49,000 per year. Vaccinations against influenza are usually made available to people in developed countries. Farmed poultry is often vaccinated to avoid decimation of the flocks. The most common human vaccine is the trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) that contains purified and inactivated antigens against three viral strains. Typically, this vaccine includes material from two influenza A virus subtypes and one influenza B virus strain. The TIV carries no risk of transmitting the disease, and it has very low reactivity. A vaccine formulated for one year may be ineffective in the following year, since the influenza virus evolves rapidly, and new strains quickly replace the older ones. Antiviral drugs can be used to treat influenza, with neuraminidase inhibitors (such as Tamiflu or Relenza) being particularly effective. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]
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