We kid you not: Here’s how to skirt illness or death if your team is in the Super Bowl.
This may sound a bit crazy but hear me out (and even if I did write about death by cattle yesterday, I promise I’m not really that morbid). A Tulane University study has revealed that cities with teams in the Super Bowl see a rise in flu deaths – and it’s significant. For those in the 65-years-and-older set, having a team in the Super Bowl leads to an average 18 percent increase in flu deaths.
This matters not only for those vulnerable to flu, but actually has a pretty broad impact. A study published by the National Institutes of Health crunched the numbers and estimated that between medical costs, lost earnings and loss of life, the annual economic burden of annual flu epidemics in the United States is around $87.1 billion. Flu is serious business, not only are lives lost (up to 49,000 a year) but valuable resources are used in fighting it.
But back to the Super Bowl.
Lead author of the Tulane study, Charles Stoecker, and his team examined county-level statistics from 1974-2009 to arrive at their findings of the 18 percent increase in flu deaths in cities which have teams competing in the big game.
"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," says Stoecker. "Every year, we host these parties that we go to 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."
The effects are greater when the Super Bowl occurs close to the height of flu season – the CDC notes that flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. between December and February – or when the dominant strain is more lethal, which make sense.
The researchers found that the spike in deaths, however, did not occur in cities that were actually hosting the Super Bowl, likely because the host city is generally in the south where the weather is warmer with a less flu-friendly environment.
So, for those of you living in a Super Bowl team town, beware the Sunday party. Stoecker recommends getting vaccinated (if you swing that way) and washing hands. (To which I add, there's no time like flu season to adopt some obsessive tendencies when it comes to hand washing.) And if you see someone double-dipping, run, don’t walk, away from the chips.