Is Your Team in the Super Bowl? We Have Bad News For You

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that when you’re watching the Super Bowl, you’re paying attention to touchdowns, commercials, and getting enough wings and dip from the snack table than you are about anything else. But if your team has made it to the big game, you should also be more concerned about getting the flu.

According to a new study from researchers at Tulane and Cornell, the chances of contracting the flu go up significantly if your home team is in the Super Bowl. The researchers analyzed historical data that compared average flu deaths nationwide to the reported flu deaths in cities that sent football teams to the Super Bowl. For populations 65 years and older (identified as some of the most at-risk people for dying from the virus), the risk of dying from the flu increases 18% in the years when your home team plays for the national championship.

Greater flu risk

The researchers suggest a few reasons for why flu cases, and deaths in particular, spike in the home cities of the Super Bowl teams. For one, the culmination of the NFL season takes place around the same time that flu season peaks each year, meaning more people are already at risk. In addition, more people gather in large groups to watch games during the postseason and the Super Bowl in particular, meaning there’s a higher risk for transmitting the virus.

In addition, there tends to be a larger surge of travel to and from the sending cities – this year it’s Denver and Charlotte, N.C., where the Panthers have their home base. Increased travel in cities that boast playoff teams can also see a spike in flu cases, though it’s not as pronounced as the Super Bowl data, researchers concluded. “Fans mix with other travelers at the airport, and with fans of the opposing team and each other while at the games,” the researchers said as part of their conclusion.

But it’s not just the super-fans traveling to the big game in Santa Clara who are at risk, the researchers found. “Friends and family are more likely to gather to watch games either at public venues such as bars and restaurants or at private venues such as ‘Super Bowl parties,’ sharing food and beverages and generally increasing contact,” the report added. This risk is generally increased for the home cities of the teams, since a greater number of people tend to gather together.

What about the residents of the greater San Francisco area, who will welcome thousands of these fans to the Super Bowl location? According to the study, the hosting city normally doesn’t see an uptick in flu mortality, likely because the fans filling the stadium don’t spread too far and wide. The study also mentioned that hosting cities are often in slightly warmer climates, which stunts the spread of the virus until people return to their more frigid hometowns.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Of course, most people don’t die from contracting the flu, even if it likely means enduring a few miserable days in bed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 5% and 20% of Americans contract the flu each year, which ranges from 15.9 to 63.7 million people. Of those, only about 200,000 people are hospitalized for serious flu-related complications. (Flu-related deaths have varied over the past 30 years from 3,000 to 49,000 people.)

This year’s reported cases have been lower than last year’s flu season, when a majority of states were affected throughout much of December, January, and February. (To take a look at the states affected this year compared to last, check out the CDC’s interactive map.)

How to prevent the flu

Still, Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” persists for a reason. If you call Denver or Charlotte home – or if you’re planning to attend a packed Super Bowl party in any location – it doesn’t hurt to be safe. The chicken wings are communal, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s germs need to be. Wash your hands frequently, the CDC advises, as germs from infected people who cough or sneeze is often the fastest way the flu spreads. In addition, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. It’s not just good manners; it also helps spread any germs you carry to the stadium or your neighbor’s living room.

It takes about two weeks for a flu vaccine to take effect, so if you still haven’t gotten to your local pharmacy or doctor’s office, it won’t be much help in time for Sunday’s game. Still, the CDC recommends getting one as soon as possible to protect you for the rest of the flu season. And finally, stay home if you’re sick. You might have scored the ultimate tickets or have made the perfect dip for your party, but you’re not doing anyone any favors if you try to muscle through this one. (WebMD reports that you’re likely still contagious if it’s within five days of your symptoms starting.) Drink some water along with that dip you don’t have to share anymore, and spread the germs a little less.

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