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Cities with Super Bowl teams have higher flu death rates, study says

Football fans in Boulder and Charlotte going to Super Bowl parties this weekend might want to think twice before they double dip in the salsa.

Could living in a city with a great football team be damaging to your health?
Matthew Wiley/Masterfile/Corbis

Cities with teams in the Super Bowl, like this year's Boulder, Colorado, and Charlotte, North Carolina, are associated with a lot of things. A run on blue cheese dip and body paint comes to mind.

Now researchers say the home cities of the teams competing for football's greatest title are associated with something else -- deaths caused by the flu.

Researchers from Tulane and Cornell universities examined flu records from 1974-2009. They found that if a county had a local team in the Super Bowl, there was, on average, an 18 percent increase in deaths from the flu in people over 65 years old.

It's important to realize that this study shows higher flu mortality in cities from where the Super Bowl teams hail, not where the game is actually played. On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will face off in Santa Clara, California, for Super Bowl 50.

The researchers found no increase in flu symptoms in Super Bowl host cities, which Charles Stoecker of Tulane University School of Public Health says is likely because the Super Bowl is normally held in warm climates where the incidence flu outbreaks is less. Stoecker is the lead author of a study published in the American Journal of Health Economics covering this topic.

So, why do team's home cities get all achy and sniffly around the time of the big game? The reason is likely exactly what you think -- all those parties full of double dippers, beer sharers and general revelry makers.

"It's people that are staying at home and hosting small local gatherings, so your Super Bowl party, that are actually passing influenza among themselves," Stoecker said in a statement.

"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," he added.

To do your part to help clamp down on the spread of the flu virus while still supporting your team, Stoecker recommends washing your hands, getting vaccinated and putting a sign above that cheese dip that says "Scoop Once!"

While that last bit might sound like a joke, at least one study has found that double dipping does, indeed, transfer about five times the number of bacteria to dips and salsa than using a virgin cracker or chip. So maybe that sign isn't such a bad idea after all.

Now, go Panthers! (Sorry, as a North Carolinian I had to get that in.)