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Why you’ll want to skip the chip bowl at your Super Bowl party

We’ve all been so concerned with the spread of the Zika virus this winter we’ve forgotten about the much more prevalent epidemic that’s already widespread in the United States — influenza. 

That’s right, folks. In case you forgot, flu season is upon us, and it’s just waiting to creep up on you when you least expect it. For many, that will be on Super Bowl Sunday. And while I hate to cast a shadow over one of the more fun days of the year, I think you’ll thank me for this warning in the end.

Researchers at Cornell University actually found a link between cities with an NFL team playing in the Super Bowl and a rise in flu cases. They analyzed countrywide data from 1974 to 2009, paying particular attention to the cities that were home to the teams playing in the Super Bowl each year.

Specifically, they saw an 18 percent increase in flu-related deaths in people over 65 in these cities. The reason for this seems to be pretty simple — a city boasting a team in the Super Bowl will have more Super Bowl parties, and more parties result in more people being in close contact. Since the flu virus is spread via direct contact (shaking hands, kissing, hugging or chest bumping, as the case may be this weekend), football parties are the perfect incubators for it.

More: 7 Secrets for flu prevention from doctors and nurses

“You have friends over for a Super Bowl party. You all go out to a bar to watch the game. A bunch of people are cramped in a small space, and they’re all touching the same napkins and grabbing the same chips. If your team wins, you’re all out in the street celebrating. It’s that kind of disease transmission that we think might be a driving factor,” said Nicholas Sanders, assistant professor of economics in Cornell’s Department of Policy Analysis and Management.

While this wasn’t all that surprising to the researchers considering how the flu is spread, what was unexpected was the lack of increase in flu cases in the cities that hosted the Super Bowl. The only explanation they could come up with for this was that locals often stay home when their city hosts.

More: Cold and flu prevention steps you’re not taking but should

However, even if you’re not from Charlotte or Denver, and you’re going to a Super Bowl party this year, you should exercise precautions to avoid catching this nasty bug. Wash your hands often, don’t take food from a communal bowl, don’t share drinks with your buddies even if you think they’re healthy, and try to keep high fives and chest bumps to a minimum, as hard as that may be. Sure, getting the flu may not kill you, but it’ll definitely make for a miserable Monday, even if your team wins.

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