Feb 02, 2016 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Tags: flu, virus, infectious disease

The flu season is heating up just in time for the Super Bowl. That’s not good news for fans of the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. A new study suggests there may be an increased risk of flu deaths for fans of teams that make it to the Super Bowl.  

“It sounds strange, but if you think about it, the findings make sense,” says Sankar Swaminathan, MD, chief of the Division of Infection Diseases for University of Utah Health. “The Super Bowl happens right in the middle of flu season. The flu is spread by close contact like that at Super Bowl parties—which you are more likely to attend if your team is playing.”

This year’s flu season is starting late, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be serious.

“The Centers for Disease Control says they are now seeing an increase in cases of flu and they are seeing an increase in cases of severe flu. They expect that trend to continue,” says Andrew Pavia, MD, the chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases for University of Utah Heath. “They also report that most of the severe cases of the flu are being seen in young and middle-aged adults. This includes pregnant women who can develop very severe disease if they get influenza.”

The fact the flu season is starting at Super Bowl time means the outbreak could be worse than previously expected. “The study found that the number of flu deaths is seven times greater when the peak of the flu season happens near the Super Bowl,” says Swaminathan. “It decreased when the peak happened three weeks or more before or after the game. So, now we just need to wait and see when the peak occurs.” 

So, should everyone avoid Super Bowl parties, especially if they are in the high-risk age groups? “People simply need to take precautions to avoid the flu,” says Swaminathan. “The most important thing they can do is get a flu shot.”

If attending a Super Bowl party, keep it clean. Don’t share food or beverages, wash your hands frequently, and try to avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes. “If you see someone who looks sick, stay away from them,” says Pavia. “If you are sick, stay home. Do your fellow fans a favor by not spreading the flu.” 

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