“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,” Charles Stoecker of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine said, via the school’s Web site. “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.”
Stoecker, Tulane’s Alan Barreca and Nicholas J. Sanders of William & Mary published the results of research last month in the American Journal of Health Economics. They examined county-level vital-statistics data from the years between 1974 and 2009 and found that “counties in [metropolitan statistical areas] with teams participating in championship play see an increase in influenza deaths of approximately 18 percent, with larger effects when the game occurs closer to the peak of influenza season, or when the dominant influenza strain is more lethal.”
The peak of flu season usually happens between December and March.
The study found three possible reasons for the increase in flu deaths because of the Super Bowl:
1. “An increase in large gatherings increases the frequency of human contact and probability of transmission.”
2. “Postseason play alters travel patterns and increases the contact or mixing rate between possible susceptible and infected groups via fan mobility.”
3. “Postseason play may affect local economies in areas with participating teams, through increased tourism from outside or increased local expenditures. Changes in local income or employment rates may in turn influence behavior and health expenditures.”
But if you’re actually going to the Super Bowl itself, it’s all good: The researchers found that flu deaths did not spike in cities that hosted the game, mainly because it’s usually held in warm-weather cities where the flu isn’t as prevalent.
The researchers propose that anyone hosting a party remind guests to wash their hands and avoid sharing drinks or food during parties.