During the NHL season it is very common for players to miss playing minutes while recovering from injury. However, this season players were missing playing minutes for an entirely different reason, illness. Several players were diagnosed and quarantined for having the Mumps Virus.
While we rarely see mumps in the United States, outbreaks are still a possibility. These outbreaks occur in locations where people spend a lot of time in close contact with others. Common areas for possible outbreak are classrooms, sports teams, and college dormitories.
Mumps is a viral infection that primarily affects the parotid salivary glands. Signs and symptoms of Mumps are:
- Parotitis or swollen salivary glands, which can affect one or both sides. This is where Mumps actually gets it name from the swollen looking cheeks
- Pain with chewing and or swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness and fatigue
If the overwhelming majorities are vaccinated with the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) injection, how did this happen in the NHL? While the vaccine is good, it has been shown to lose its effectiveness after 10 years. Most children are now given a booster vaccine, which will take them into their early 20s. This is significant timing because if immunity weakens after 10 years, this places individuals in their early 20s, which is the college age, and coming into the time where players are being drafted into the professional teams.
Mumps are spread through contact with the salvia of an infected person. Examples are:
- Breathing in saliva droplets can infect a person after an infected person has coughed or sneezed
- Touching items that have been coughed, sneezed, or spit on and then putting your hands into your mouth
- Sharing eating utensils or cups with an infected person can also spread Mumps
This makes sports teams vulnerable because players typically pass and share water bottles. This combined with the very close contact, hands/gloves to the face, heavier breathing, coughing, and spitting created the perfect storm for the outbreak in the NHL.
Below is a list of players and officials who either tested positive for Mumps Virus or showed symptoms of Mumps along with a timeline of the outbreak courtesy of ESPN.
Players, officials diagnosed with mumps or showing mumps-like symptoms
St. Louis Blues: suspected but not confirmed
Referee Eric Furlatt, linesman Steve Miller
No confirmations of team support staff being diagnosed with the disease have been reported, although an intern with the Pittsburgh Penguins radio staff has been confirmed to have the virus.
Timeline of events related to the mumps outbreak in the NHL:
Sept. 12: Local health unit issues mumps alert in Orange County, California, where some Anaheim Ducks players live.
Oct. 16: Referee Eric Furlatt works Blues-Kings game.
Oct. 17: Keith Ballard of the Minnesota Wild misses game against Ducks with mumps-like symptoms; referee Eric Furlatt works game.
Oct. 19: Ducks play Blues.
Oct. 23: Linesman Steve Miller works Blues-Canucks game.
Oct. 27: Wild play Rangers.
Oct. 30: Ducks play Blues.
Early November: Furlatt misses games with mumps-like symptoms.
Nov. 3: Blues play Rangers.
Nov. 5: Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks miss game vs. Islanders with flu-like symptoms.
Nov. 6: Blues play Devils.
Nov. 8: Marco Scandella of the Minnesota Wild shows first signs of mumps-like symptoms, but plays 22:04 against Montreal Canadiens.
Nov. 15: Rangers play Penguins.
Mid-November: Team physicians sent email by NHL-NHLPA joint health and safety committee with recommended changes to bench and dressing room behavior.
Nov. 24-28: Penguins immunized and tested for mumps.
Nov. 28: Sidney Crosby of the Penguins treated for injury to right side of neck; Crosby is treated and tested for mumps; results are negative.
Nov. 28: Tanner Glass of the New York Rangers sent home from Philadelphia after showing flu-like symptoms.
Dec. 2: Devils play Penguins.
Dec. 4: Ryan Suter of Minnesota Wild diagnosed with mumps.
Dec. 8: Rangers play Penguins; Crosby plays 18:56, his shortest time on ice in eight games.
Dec. 10: Travis Zajac and Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils diagnosed with mumps.
Dec. 10-11: Crosby tested again; no symptoms displayed and tests showed no indications of an infection.
Dec. 11: Penguins visit nearby children's hospital.
Dec. 12: Crosby, who had previously had a booster shot before the 2014 Olympics, held out as a precaution after face swells; spent time around teammates in dressing room; Crosby's DNA sent to CDC for further testing.
Dec. 16: Bennett diagnosed with mumps.
Dec. 17: Marc-Andre Fleury, Robert Bortuzzo and Olli Maatta of the Penguins tested for mumps as a precautionary measure.
Dec. 18: Fleury tests negative for the virus, backup goalie Thomas Greiss held out as a precaution; Rangers isolate Lee Stempniak while he is tested for the mumps; AHL Hartford Wolfpack forward Joey Crabb and head coach Ken Gernander tested for mumps; radio intern with the Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed to have case of the mumps
Dec. 19: Olli Maatta tests positive for mumps.
Dec. 22: Penguins Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter and Thomas Greiss sent home from Florida to be tested for mumps virus; Crabb and Stempniak test positive for the mumps
Dec. 26: Downie and Greiss diagnosed with mumps.
Dec. 27: Patrik Elias, Scott Clemmensen and Michael Ryder of the New Jersey Devils diagnosed with mumps.
What can we do to protect ourselves from future Mumps outbreaks?
- Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic agree that the most important thing we can do to prevent Mumps is get the MMR vaccine.
- It is also important to have a booster vaccine
- Once vaccinated, prevention begins with simply measures such as washing your hands
- Make sure your hands are properly cleaned before touching your face or putting your hands to your mouth
- Do not share eating utensils or cups with others
- Cover all coughs and sneezes
- Use your own water bottle when possible
- When sharing water bottles do not ever touch your mouth to the bottle
- Quickly isolate and quarantine any individuals suspected to have Mumps and seek immediate medical attention