Preventing Flu Spread During Super Bowl Parties

February 3rd 2016
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor

Those planning to watch the Super Bowl with fellow football fans should be aware of the increased risk for catching or transmitting the flu during these parties.

Those planning to watch the Super Bowl with fellow football fans should be aware of the increased risk for catching or transmitting the flu during these parties.

“There is going to be a risk of influenza transmission whenever people get together and share food during flu season,” Charles Stoecker, PhD, toldContemporary Clinic. “Larger events like the Super Bowl can particularly compound these effects and make it easier for the virus to spread.”

Dr. Stoecker recently led a study in which he and his colleagues analyzed data on the rates of influenza-related death from 1974 to 2009 in areas that had an NFL team in the Super Bowl, comparing them with the rates in areas with football teams that failed to make it to the final game.

The researchers found that areas with a team in the Super Bowl saw 18% more flu-related deaths among patients aged 65 years and older than areas in the control group. The effects tended to be more pronounced when the Super Bowl took place close to the peak of flu season, or when the dominant influenza strain proved to be more virulent or lethal.

The study authors suggested that this was because areas with a team in the Super Bowl are likelier to watch the game in larger gatherings, creating a greater number of opportunities for sick patients to unknowingly transmit the flu virus.

“It’s people that are staying at home and hosting small local gatherings…that are actually passing influenza among themselves,” Dr. Stoecker stated in a press release. “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.”

However, the researchers found no indication that cities hosting the Super Bowl experienced an increase in flu-related deaths. This was likely because the Super Bowl is generally held in warmer areas where the virus is not as easily transmitted, they explained.

Although Super Bowl parties can potentially become a crucible for flu transmission, they can also serve as a valuable springboard for retail clinicians to educate patients on ways to protect themselves from the virus, Dr. Stoecker said.

“The Super Bowl is a topic that many patients can relate to,” Dr. Stocker toldContemporary Clinic. “If a patient brings up their plans for the game during a visit to a retail clinic, clinicians can then provide them with recommendations on minimizing their risk of catching the flu.”

Although the first line of defense against the flu is vaccination, it may be too late for patients to reap the benefits of immunization in time for the big game, Dr. Stoecker noted. However, clinicians can still encourage patients to get their flu shot earlier next season.

Additionally, clinicians should encourage patients who are planning to attend a Super Bowl party or other gathering to:

- Never share their food or double-dip.

- Cover their mouth when coughing.

- Wash their hands regularly.

- Stay home entirely if they are feeling sick.

“If a major contributor to increased influenza spread is local gatherings for watching games, a simple policy solution is to increase awareness of influenza transmission vectors during times of sports-related gatherings,” the study authors concluded.

The study was published in theAmerican Journal of Health Economics.

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