Well over a dozen NHL players and staff have gone down with the Mumps virus lately. The problem is that no one seems to know how it’s happening.
Most children in today’s world have been vaccinated for the Mumps. Other than back in 2006, the most recent outbreak of the Mumps, it’s a condition that’s been largely eradicated in the modern world. That’s what makes this outbreak in the NHL so perplexing. Even players who have received a Mumps booster as a precaution are still contracting it. Via The Globe and Mail:
Just why and how a disease connected with childhood illness and mostly eradicated by a vaccination program in the 1960s has spread through the NHL with such abandon this season is a matter of some conjecture.Featured Videos
The problem, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stems in part from the disease’s long incubation period, which can last anywhere from two to four weeks, and means players can unknowingly infect one another before their own symptoms become visible or pronounced.
And while the vaccine against mumps – when administered in a two-dose regimen – is effective 80 to 90 per cent of the time, it is not entirely foolproof. Instead, the remaining 10 to 20 per cent of the population remain susceptible to the disease, even after immunization. The net effect, according to the CDC, is that occasional mumps outbreaks still occur, especially in population settings where people have a high number of close contacts with others, such as school and college settings.
What’s being speculated is that while the vaccinations do work to prevent the Mumps, it’s unknown how long it works to prevent them. Via DeadSpin:
Back in 2006, researchers found that college students who came down with mumps had been immunized more than ten years earlier than roommates who didn’t contract the disease. A subsequent study confirmed this, revealing that protective antibodies were much lower in students who’d been vaccinated fifteen years earlier compared to students who’d been vaccinated just five years earlier. The takeaway here is that the mumps vaccine works, we just don’t know how long it works.
Mumps outbreaks are rare, so updating the vaccination schedule hasn’t really been on our radar. But it may soon be. Throwing a wrench into all of this is that some players with the disease recently did receive a booster. The Penguins claim Crosby was vaccinated against mumps in February; he had antibodies in his system, just not enough. And that’s what makes this so challenging for the NHL (or any concentrated workplace). There isn’t a simple blood test to confirm with 100 percent certainty that a hockey player (or any person) is truly immune to mumps. That’s because the optimal level of antibody to protect from the virus is unknown. NHL teams assumed players were immune when, in fact, they were not.
Fortunately the Red Wings seem to have avoided infection up to this point, but it seems the only real way teams are combating the virus is by keeping the dressing rooms sterile and keeping close tabs on the health of the players if they start to appear ill. It’s transmitted via droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes, or talks. So hits on the ice, players jawing to one another face-to-face, or any coughing and sneezing mid-game are easy ways for players who have yet to show symptoms to spread the virus to unsuspecting players, on their team or the opposing team. The Red Wings’ organization is now also offering vaccinations to all team members and members of the staff to help try and curb further outbreaks. Though under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league cannot make any vaccinations mandatory for players.
Teams hit the heaviest by it have done their best not only to contain the spreading, but also to keep competitive on the ice as some of their top players are taken out of commission and quarantined for the sake of keeping everyone else around them healthy. Sidney Crosby is the latest victim with the Mumps, sidelined and quarantined for the time being, so Pittsburgh will have to move forward without their star player and hope that he hasn’t infected anyone else on the team as well, in the time before he showed symptoms.
At this point, regardless of its apparent effectiveness, the immunizations and boosters are the best chance the NHL has at containing a worse outbreak.