Friday, December 12, 2014

An Outbreak of Mumps in the National Hockey League

About a dozen National Hockey League players have come down with mumps in the past two months, according to CBS Sports. The outbreak seems to have started with the Anaheim Ducks (four players), but it soon spread to other teams, including the Minnesota Wild (five players), the New York Rangers (one player), and the New Jersey Devils (two players). A dozen cases of mumps on teams with a total player count of only a couple hundred players is a lot, considering that there have been only about a thousand cases of mumps in the entire country this year, according to the CDC.

But it makes sense, actually. Mumps is spread by contact with infected saliva or mucus, usually via coughing or sneezing. The close-knit conditions in a hockey locker room and frequent intense physical contact on the ice would be ideal conditions for the disease to spread. An infected person can infect others for several days before they exhibit the typical symptoms, of tiredness, fever, headaches, muscle pain, and glandular swelling - plenty of time for a hockey player to inadvertently pass his infection on to a player from another team. The Anaheim Ducks played the Minnesota Wild in mid-October. In addition, some infected persons never show the typical symptoms at all. Yet they can still infect others, making it hard to trace and eradicate an outbreak.

Although the NHL isn't too worried (mumps is not a particularly life-threatening disease), the outbreak has been disruptive in that players have had to miss games while they are sick. The league is warning teams and players about the outbreak in a hope of stemming the disease's spread. Most of the players had already been vaccinated against mumps (mumps is primarily disease of childhood, and vaccination against mumps is part of the normal vaccination regimen for children), but health officials report that the vaccine is not 100% effective; it's more like 78%. An additional vaccination can boost effectiveness to 88%, and some teams are offering the second vaccination as a precaution.

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