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Super Bowl parties go viral (not in a good way)

Football fans in Denver and the Carolinas may want to take some extra precautions against the flu this weekend.

According to new research published in the American Journal of Health Economics, each year, cities with teams in the Super Bowl see a rise in flu deaths.

Researchers from Tulane University analyzed county-level statistics from 1974 to 2009 and found that having a team in the Super Bowl led to, on average, an 18 percent increase in flu deaths among adults over 65 years old, a population more vulnerable to serious complications from the flu.

And they said Super Bowl parties appear to be the main culprit.

"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," lead study author Charles Stoecker, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Global Health Management and Policy at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement.

The researchers found that the effect was greater when the Super Bowl occurred close to the peak of flu season or in years when the dominant influenza strain was more lethal.

The study showed no increase in flu deaths in cities hosting the Super Bowl. The researchers concluded that this is because the game is traditionally held in warmer cities where flu isn't transmitted as easily.

This year's flu season is shaping up to be a mild one so far, but the virus is still likely to kill thousands of people and sicken many more.

Stoecker offered a few tips to help you protect yourself, including getting the flu vaccine and washing your hands frequently. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to help protect others. And for your Super Bowl party, he recommends "a giant sign above the dip that says, 'scoop once.'"

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