As millions of Americans gather this Sunday to watch the Super Bowl, they will be spreading more than good cheer, according to new research.
Writing in the American Journal of Health Economics, researchers at Tulane University found cities that have teams playing in the Super Bowl see a spike in flu deaths.
"It's people that are staying at home and hosting small local gatherings, ... your Super Bowl party, that are actually passing influenza among themselves," said lead author Charles Stoecker of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
"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."
The researchers looked at county-level statistics from 1974 to 2009 and found that in cities with teams playing in the big game, there was an 18 percent rise in flu deaths for those older than 65.
If the Super Bowl takes place during the peak of flu season the effects are more pronounced, according to the researchers.
In the cities that have hosted the Super Bowl over the years, the researchers found no increase in flu deaths, something they say might be attributable to the fact that the game is often played in warmer cities.
The researchers suggest several steps to mitigate the chances of getting sick at a Super Bowl party. Among those are getting a flu shot, washing hands frequently and to not use one chip to dip twice, which is a sure way to spread germs to everyone at the party.
Here's a short video about the research: