With more than a dozen confirmed cases across five teams, it doesn’t look like the NHL’s mumps outbreak is going away anytime soon. The infection isn’t limited just to the players. On-ice officials have also been affected.
Referee Eric Furlatt and linesman Steve Miller were also diagnosed with mumps, reported the New York Times.
Furlatt and Miller had not worked a game together prior to their reported illness. Furlatt officiated Devils vs. Penguins on December 2. Miller worked Rangers and Penguins games in late November, with a Ducks game in early December.
According to the CDC, mumps typically starts with flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, and is followed by swelling of salivary glands. While immunizations are usually given to children, they’re not perfect. They also lose their effectiveness over time, increasing the likelihood that someone who comes in contact with the virus will contract mumps.
Mumps is spread primarily through saliva and mucus. Coughs and sneezes are great ways to spread the virus, as are shared water bottles and towels. Given the close quarters and regular contact between hockey players, it’s not shocking to see mumps spread.
“The setting of a sports team, with very close contact between people, can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases,” said Dr. Walter A. Orenstein of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta told the New York Times.
The five Minnesota Wild players who caught mumps were all defensemen, which means they sit together on the bench and share the same area in the locker room, possibly wiping their faces with the same towels or occasionally drinking from the same water bottle. Player-to-player transmission on the same team isn’t much of a mystery.
“There are a couple of unique challenges with mumps. Part of that is the incubation [period] is long and can vary quite a bit — 12 to 25 days,” Dr. Greg Wallace of the CDC told ESPN.com. “The other challenge is that some — a relatively high proportion of those infected — are going to show little or no symptoms, and we don’t know how well they will spread [the disease] to others.”
The right side of Sidney Crosby's face was … different … today: pic.twitter.com/8gVmXU8c19
— Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) December 12, 2014
So What’s It Like?
“Mumps has to be the worst thing I’ve ever had in my life,” said Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin. He suffered through a course of symptoms that included exhaustion, fever, chills, and body aches. He lost 10 pounds over the course of three days.
“I’m glad it’s out of my system,” Minnesota’s Ryan Suter told the Star Tribune. “There’s a few days where you really can’t do anything. It’s a miserable virus.”
“[These] have been among the worst days of life,” said New Jersey’s Adam Larsson. “One thing is for sure: I have never in my life been this sick before.”
The NHL’s Response
“It is certainly an outbreak that was unexpected and has caused unwanted disruption at the team level, but it is not something we have any significant control over,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
The NHL quickly took steps to inform teams about mumps once a confirmed case was identified. Comprehensive instructions were sent to each team’s physicians and trainers by the NHL’s Infection Control subcommittee. Vaccination recommendations are up to each team; vaccinations cannot be mandated.
Current protocol appears to be a five-to-seven-day quarantine for the infected player.
“Other precautions have included disinfecting the locker rooms daily, including all gear and products. We also provided vaccinations to all players and traveling staff,” a Ducks spokesperson said.
Of course, even a good cleaning isn’t a guarantee, as Minnesota coach Mike Yeo pointed out.
“We’ve had the room cleaned and decontaminated or whatever you want to call it,” Yeo said. “But I might have it in me, you might have it in you. Who knows? … Sorry to say that. Even though we decontaminated and cleaned the room, even though I don’t have it, I might still be bringing it back into the room. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I don’t really know. I’m trying to learn and probably learning too much about this, to be honest with you. But we’re doing everything we can. But at the same time, we can’t be sitting around thinking about the mumps.”
Teams, including the Ducks, Rangers, and Islanders have offered vaccinations to players and support staff. “We are thinking about it,” said Detroit GM Ken Holland.
The Islanders also cancelled a recently scheduled trip to visit a children’s hospital, out of concern for the health of both the players and the children.
- Anaheim Ducks – Francois Beauchemin, Emerson Etem, Corey Perry
- Minnesota Wild – Keith Ballard (unconfirmed), Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Ryan Suter,
- New Jersey Devils – Adam Larsson, Travis Zajac
- New York Rangers – Derick Brassard, Tanner Glass
- Pittsburgh Penguins – Beau Bennett, Sidney Crosby
- St. Louis Blues – Jori Lehtera (unconfirmed), unnamed players
The incubation period for mumps can be as long as three weeks. Despite the best efforts of players, teams, and the league, it may be some time until this event runs its course.
“It’s an evolving situation and one we are trying to stay on top of, even though we don’t have much control,”said Daly. “We have provided our clubs with best practices and steps that should be employed to minimize exposure and risk. We hope and believe it is just a matter of time until the situation resolves.”
Mumps cases may actually be on the decline, according to Dr. Judith Iberg of Mt. Sinai hospital in New York. “The main thing now is that everybody is aware of it and from what I understand most teams have given their players booster shots,” Aberg told Reuters. “The vaccines take two-to-four weeks to have their maximum effect so they’re just starting to kick in. [The mumps outbreak] should be starting to run its course.”
This, too, shall pass. Like the players and officials, we can only hope it passes quickly.