Areas with teams playing in the Super Bowl are more likely to see an increase in influenza-related deaths, particularly in years when the dominant influenza strain is more virulent or when the event occurs closer to the peak of influenza season, according to researchers at Tulane University.

County-level data of death records from the National Center for Health Statistics Vital Statistics System, population numbers, and weather (humidity measures) with dates and locations of Super Bowls from 1974–2009 were reviewed in the study. An average 18% increase in influenza-related deaths was observed in areas with a team in the Super Bowl among adults ≥65 years old. The effect was worse in years when the dominant strain was more virulent, such as this season’s influenza A (H3N2), or when the Super Bowl occurred closer to the influenza season peak. However, no change in influenza mortality was seen among teams hosting the Super Bowl; this could be due to the tendency for the host cities to be in warmer, more humid climates that may serve as barriers to influenza transmission.

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The authors hypothesize that this increase could be due to increased transmission from fans traveling to games or being exposed to incoming travelers at playoff games. Person-to-person contact at football viewing parties may also contribute to this risk prior to any Super Bowl-related travel and continue transmission up through the Super Bowl. Washing of hands and avoidance of sharing drinks or food at parties during the height of influenza season, particularly for inhabitants of areas with a successful football team, could reduce the risk of transmission and influenza-related mortality among vulnerable populations.

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