Infectious disease goes pro: Mumps hits NHL players

Mumps has generally been a rare disease in the U.S. since the mumps vaccination program started in 1967, with just a few hundred people contracting the virus annually. This year, however, there have been some high-profile mumps outbreaks — including one circulating through the National Hockey League.

So far this year, players from four NHL teams, as well as two on-ice officials, have contracted the illness, according to the New York Times. The outbreak started in the middle of October, when two players from the Minnesota Wild were diagnosed with mumps. The contagious disease has since spread around the league.

"This definitely qualifies as an outbreak," Emily Landon, MD, an infectious disease expert from University of Chicago Medicine, told the Chicago Tribune. "If we had two cases at the hospital, we'd call it an outbreak."

Mumps symptoms include fever, tiredness and swollen and tender salivary glands by the ear and jaw, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from an infected person, usually when he or she coughs, sneezes or talks. Cups or water bottles used by an infected person can also spread the disease. All of this makes locker room situations, as well as playing a high-contact sport like hockey, prime areas for mumps to spread.

"The setting of a sports team, with very close contact between people, can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases," Walter Orenstein, MD, an associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, told the NYT.

In November, the NHL's infection control subcommittee issued recommendations to each team aimed at quelling the mumps outbreak. Many teams have offered players booster shots of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

Mumps has been more prevalent in the U.S. this year than in years past: Through August 15, 965 people had been reported to have mumps, while just 438 people had mumps in the U.S. in 2013, according to the CDC.

Find information on mumps prevention and control in healthcare settings here.

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