A rise in flu deaths has been found to occur around the time of the Super Bowl, with the risk increasing in the cities of competing teams. The impact on mortality is mostly limited to those aged 65 years and over. The average increase in flu deaths is as high as 18% among this population if they live one of the metropolitan areas of a Super Bowl team. No rise in risk was found in cities hosting the event; however, researchers hypothesize that this may be due to the majority of games taking place in the south—the milder climate making it less amenable for flu transmission.
The study was conducted by researchers at Tulane and Cornell Universities, who reached their findings after analyzing county statistics from 1974–2009. The full study was published in the American Journal of Health Economics. The effects were greater when the Super Bowl occurred close to the peak of flu season or when the dominant strain was more lethal. Existing models are showing that this year’s flu season could be a milder one.
Identifying the main cause of the spread, lead author Charles Stoecker said, “It’s people that are staying at home and hosting small local gatherings, so your Super Bowl party, that are actually passing influenza among themselves.” This is exasperated by coughs and sneezes, followed by chips and dips being shared by those who don’t usually eat together.
The authors note these outcomes are extended to similar events, such as the World Series and Olympic games. The best defense is regular hand washing and getting vaccinated, Mr. Stoecker also suggests placing a large sign above dip that says, “Scoop once.”
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