Photo: Christian Newton | Flickr
It’s time for Super Bowl LII, and everyone knows what that means — time to protect yourself against infectious diseases.
OK, maybe that’s not what comes to mind when you think of Sunday’s football championship in Minneapolis, but it’s a real concern for health officials.
Flu outbreaks have occurred this winter in Minnesota, just like everywhere else. There were 111 different outbreaks in school systems there last week in addition to the 72 outbreaks the prior week.
More than 1 million people are predicted to attend the Super Bowl and its related activities in the Minneapolis area this week. Of those, 125,000 are expected to be people from out of state.
This environment could make the school flu outbreaks look like child’s play.
It’s estimated that 34 million people in the United States will get the flu this year. Of them, 710,000 will be hospitalized and 56,000 will eventually die from the ailment.
A record 1 in 15 doctor’s visits in the United States last week was for the flu.
To make matters worse, cities that host the Super Bowl have a greater risk of flu epidemics.
A study that looked at all the Super Bowl games from 1974 to 2009 found that host cities had 18 percent more flu deaths in people over 65 years of age.
While people in that age group might not be going to Super Bowl festivities in large numbers, they can easily catch the virus from someone who does.
“Influenza can spread readily when people are close together for a prolonged time in an enclosed environment, such as rooms or a plane,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Healthline. “I’m more concerned about all the travel and all those Super Bowl parties.”
Football players aren’t immune, either.
New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler was hospitalized on Sunday with flu-like symptoms. He is expected to recover and play in this weekend’s championship.
Trying to prevent an outbreak
Officials are doing what they can to minimize outbreaks.
Among other things, they’re disinfecting the Super Bowl Experience exhibit at the Minneapolis Convention Center several times this week, according to a report by Fox News.
Workers and volunteers are also wiping down all the individual exhibits multiple times a day as well as cleaning virtual reality equipment after each use.
Despite these efforts, prevention is largely in the hands of the fans.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the best way to avoid the illness is to get a flu shot.
If you didn’t get a flu shot, or you got one several days before the Super Bowl and just realized it takes up to two weeks before it kicks in, there are other ways you can prevent the flu.
Wash your hands regularly, especially after you touch others.
Don’t touch your nose or mouth.
If you have flu symptoms, like a headache, sore throat, or tiredness, don’t go to the game, no matter how expensive those tickets are.
How to protect your party
Contact with the flu is not just a concern at the Super Bowl itself.
Those big Super Bowl watch parties have a similar risk of contagion.
Any basic prevention option that would work at the game can work at the party, but there is the additional issue of food.
The easiest way to make sure that no one gets sick from the food is to make sure no one touches the food until it’s on their plate.
Put chips in a bowl with tongs. Use a spoon for candy bowls. Food on trays, like cheese, crackers, and cocktail wieners, should have forks, tongs, or toothpicks.
Mark those plastic cups with a person’s initials so no one picks up someone else’s drink.
And just like going to the game, if you have any symptoms, stay home and don’t go spreading germs at someone else’s house.
Schaffner thinks home-based prevention is the most effective way to stop the spread of the flu.
“Influenza will spread all around the country at those parties. This is much more important than dissemination from the event itself,” he said. “Yes, there may be some further spread after returning home, but there already was spreading in local locations from those parties.”