New York: What has Super Bowl to do with flu spread? A lot, say researchers, adding that having a team in the Super Bowl resulted in an average 18 percent increase in flu deaths among those over 65 years old -- a population more vulnerable to serious complications from influenza.
According to researchers from Los Angeles-based Tulane University, cities with teams in the Super Bowl saw a rise in flu deaths.
“It's people that are staying at home and hosting small local gatherings to watch the Super Bowl that are actually passing influenza among themselves,” said lead author Charles Stoecker of Tulane University's school of public health.
Along with economists Alan Barreca of Tulane and Nicholas Sanders of Cornell University, he looked at county-level statistics from 1974-2009 into Super Bowl -- the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL).
“Every year, we host these parties and it changes mixing patterns and you are coughing and sneezing and sharing chips and dip with people that you often don't and so we get the influenza transmitted in novel ways that's then going to eventually wind up in the lungs of a 65-year-old,” Stoecker noted in a paper published in the American Journal of Health Economics.
The effects are greater when the Super Bowl occurs close to the peak of flu season or when the dominant influenza strain is more lethal.
Models show this year's flu season could be a mild one, but the virus will still kill thousands of people and sicken many more.
Researchers found no increase in flu deaths in cities hosting the Super Bowl.
According to Stoecker, that is because the game has traditionally been held in warmer locales where the environment is less favorable for transmission.
Preventive measures, like getting vaccinated and washing hands, are the most effective in fighting the flu.
And if that's not enough, Stoecker's suggestion: A giant sign above the dip that says, "Scoop once".