Super Bowl parties have been linked with a higher incidence of deadly flu, in a recent study featured in the American Journal of Health Economics.
Research was led by Charles Stoecker, assistant professor of global health management and policy at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Alongside Alan Barreca, associate professor of economics at Tulane University, and Nicholas Sanders, assistant professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, Stoecker reviewed flu influenza death records kept between 1974 and 2009, across every US county.
Flu mortality trends pertaining to each region were analyzed based on whether or not local professional football teams had taken part in the Super Bowl across each year from the study period.
It was determined that when a specific county was represented by a team at the annual championship of the National Football League (NFL) mortality rates triggered by influenza tended to be approximately 18% higher than the average, especially among senior citizens (aged 66 or upwards).
While elderly people are usually more at risk of developing life-threatening complications after catching the flu virus, there was a statistically significant difference between death rates identified in counties with higher emotional investment in the Super Bowl, and those recorded in other counties with lowered enthusiasm for this professional football championship.
As study authors explain, one possible explanation for this striking association is the fact that Super Bowl parties tend to attract a large number of sports enthusiasts, who wouldn’t necessarily socialize under normal circumstances.
The influenza virus is highly contagious, being easily transmitted through small droplets ejected not just when infected individuals sneeze or cough, but even when they talk or breathe. The pathogen can also be contracted by touching contaminated objects and surfaces (doorknobs, tabletops, railings, faucets, napkins etc.).
Given that at Super Bowl parties and gatherings people often sit close together, sharing food and drinks, the probability of catching the flu is much higher than usual, study authors suggest.
While elderly citizens may not always be among the ones who are the most interested and engaged in these sporting events, as a cluster of influenza appears, it’s only a matter of time until they too are exposed to the virus, which is particularly life-threatening for this age group.
On the other hand, study authors didn’t find any evidence pointing to a higher incidence of deadly flu cases in cities where the highly-anticipated annual sporting event has been held.
Apparently, that’s because Super Bowl host cities are usually located in warmer regions, and the flu virus tends to be more contagious at cooler winter temperatures.
By and large, researchers have also discovered that mortality rates linked to the influenza virus are especially elevated when the much awaited NFL championship game coincides with the period when flu season hits its peak.
The number of deaths caused by the flu is also obviously augmented based on how virulent the virus strain that’s circulating the most actually is.
Taking these aspects into consideration, study authors believe that this year flu season won’t be as rough as usual, although influenza-associated deaths will still probably amount to several thousand, while many other people will manage to recover after catching the ubiquitous virus.
In order to reduce the risk of infection, it’s highly advisable to receive adequate immunization (the flu shot). In addition, it’s recommended to frequently wash one’s hands with water and soap, thoroughly sanitize objects and surfaces that may have become contaminated, refrain from sharing food, drinks or utensils, and avoid being in the presence of people who are already suffering from influenza.
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