Some of the initial reactions to the NHL’s mumps outbreak that has hit at least 17 players were surprise and confusion.
Isn’t that the disease that everyone gets vaccinated for when they’re young?
The one that’s been all but extinct since the late 1960s?
How is it that the NHL of all places, populated by some of the healthiest people on the planet with access to state of the art facilities and medical care, being victimized by this illness?
Over the past couple months, we’ve had our assumptions corrected while watching elite players Corey Perry and Sidney Crosby be sent to the sidelines. It’s not unfair to say that, at least in terms of the NHL, 2014 was the year of the mumps.
The illness has spread fast and furious with many fans now realizing that while the vaccine is effective, it doesn’t provide complete immunity. Players work in close quarters with each other and victims of the disease will be contagious before the telltale swelling of the salivary glands begin, so it’s easy to see why the NHL’s had such a tough time getting this disease under its thumb. The fact mumps can be spread before you know you have it is a problem that has elevated this beyond the status of an ordinary injury.
As Pens forward Beau Bennett realized, this outbreak has the potential to extend beyond the hockey world. Bennett visited a children’s hospital before he realized he had the mumps and that led to kids being put into isolation, per the National Post. In response to that, other teams — like the New York Islanders — postponed their scheduled holiday hospital visits, as Newsday reported.
All that being said, the mumps are still uncharted waters. While relatively isolated outbreaks aren’t an unheard of occurrence in recent years, this is the first time it’s plagued a professional sports league, according to ESPN. You can bet the NFL and NBA are keeping a close eye on the situation now that that glass ceiling has been shattered, so to speak.
While this disease has already sidelined more than a dozen players, led to several others being put into precautionary quarantine, and put the spotlight on a disease many assumed was no longer an issue, perhaps the biggest thing to keep in mind is that this might not just be a NHL story. This isn’t just something that has happened and can be reflected on — this is an ongoing, breaking news situation that has the potential to remain in the forefront for a while.
The CDC’s Dr. Greg Wallace, who leads their domestic measles, mumps, rubella and polio team, said that the NHL would need to go about 50 days without a new case before the outbreak can be seen as over. Given that new diagnoses are still being made, it’s hard to say when we’ll get to that point.
What we can say for certain is that the mumps have been an unfortunate, but huge part of the 2014-15 campaign.