Outbreak of the mumps in NHL is no laughing joke as more than a dozen players quarantined

Medical experts aren’t surprised that a rare outbreak happened in a hockey league, where players share water bottles and battle in tight corners, exchanging contagious saliva and respiratory expulsions, writes Gregg Patton.
Early cases of a mumps breakout in the NHL can be traced back to the St Louis Blues, which some observers dubbed “Team Zero”. Harry How/Getty Images/AFP
Early cases of a mumps breakout in the NHL can be traced back to the St Louis Blues, which some observers dubbed “Team Zero”. Harry How/Getty Images/AFP

Unhappily, the NHL has become the touchstone for a public update on the state of an infectious virus, the mumps.

Through the weekend, 16 players have been quarantined on five teams, from coast-to-coast. That doesn’t include several suspected, but not diagnosed, early cases on the St Louis Blues, which some observers dubbed “Team Zero”.

Mumps isn’t heard from much these days; several generations of people in the NHL demographic have been getting immunisation shots (and boosters) for decades.

Cases in the United States reportedly have dropped 99 per cent since the 1960s, to about 1,100 per year. However, medical experts aren’t surprised that a rare outbreak happened in a hockey league, where players share water bottles, sit close on benches and battle in tight corners, exchanging contagious saliva and respiratory expulsions.

Humorists have noted that the mumps has picked itself quite a team – including stars Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry and Ryan Suter. The amusement is tempered, though, knowing that this once common children’s disease can have devastating effects on adults, including sterility.

The NHL began offering vaccines in mid-November, noting that the league could not make them mandatory. In the early stages of the outbreak, some players refused the shots. But as the infections continue, in this highly touted “team-first” sport, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would risk not just his own health, but that of his entire club.

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Published: December 23, 2014 04:00 AM

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