Can having a team in the Super Bowl be dangerous for the hometown crowd?

What goes together better than pizza and football? How about the Super Bowl and the flu?

The Problem

  • Scientists know that the best way to prevent the flu is the flu vaccine. But giving everyone the flu vaccine isn’t always practical (sometimes there’s just not enough of it to go around).
  • The flu is an airborne virus that can travel up to six feet through the air like an aerosolized disease ninja.
  • And if there are two things we can count on in January and February, it’s the Super Bowl and flu season. Gives you the same feeling if you’re a Washington fan, amiright?
They've got to have something to live for.
They’ve got to have something to live for.
  • Because who doesn’t love a good Super Bowl party? The cheering, the high-fiving, the squeezing 20 people into a room, the celebratory dabbing, the accidentally drinking another person’s beer, the double-dipping into the queso, the spreading of allllll the germs…go team!
  • So researchers at Cornell University wanted to find out if patterns of the amount and type of physical interaction between people could change how much the flu virus is spread (hint: the answer is yes. But read on to find out just how MUCH yes.)

The Study

  • The researchers looked at how past events (like a lot less air travel after September 11th, more interaction of people at the Winter Olympics, etc.) affected the spread of the flu virus.
  • They used the location and records of NFL teams as a proxy (something that can be used in place of something else) for the natural “mixing” of people that spreads the flu virus.
  • In other words, they looked at data to see if your NFL home team’s record made you more or less likely to get (and even die from) the flu.
  • They compared death rates from flu in people over 65. They looked at years from 1974-2009 in counties of metro areas that sent a team to the Super Bowl to areas that did not have a Super Bowl contender (losing teams’ areas = control group).

The Results

  • The good news: There was no significant relationship between living in a Super Bowl host city and an increase in your likelihood of dying of the flu. This may be because the Super Bowl is often hosted in warm, humid climates where the flu virus would not spread as easily. It could also have something to do with the overall wealth of the cities that are picked to host.
  • The really good news: Only play fantasy football? Don’t have an allegiance to any team? Weren’t invited to any Super Bowl parties this year? Live in Dallas? You’re totally safe*!
It only hurts because it's true.
It only hurts because it’s true.
  • The bad news: You know how you were excited that your team won their conference? Well I hope you got your flu shot this year, because people living in areas sending a team to the Super Bowl have a statistically greater chance of dying from the flu than people whose team is terrible (I’m looking at you, Cleveland).
  •  The really bad news: People over age 65 who have a team near them going to the Super Bowl have an 18 percent greater mortality rate from flu than people whose teams totally stink. Oh the irony.

The Takeaway

  • So go ahead-  high-five and double-dip it up, San Fransiscans.* No worries about an increased risk of flu (but actually, don’t double-dip, because gross).
  • Charlotte and Denver-area folks should be even more careful about washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding closed in areas with lots of people in the weeks after the Super Bowl*.
  • See, Pittsburgh fans? No increased flu risk for you! Something good DID come out of your season. You’re welcome*.
  • And for those of you who won’t be cheering for the Panthers or the Broncos this weekend, just remember that things could always be worse! Unless you’re a Cleveland Browns fan. And then getting the flu might have been preferable to a 3-13 season*. Yikes.
See, Cam wasn't dabbing. He was showing us proper sneezing technique so we don't all spread the flu this weekend! Thanks, Cam!
See, Cam wasn’t dabbing. He was showing us proper sneezing technique so we don’t all spread the flu this weekend! Thanks, Cam!

*You should still get a flu shot.

Get the full play-by-play of this study here:

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/AJHE_a_00036