The National Hockey League saw an outbreak of mumps earlier this season. Over 20 players and two officials were diagnosed with or showed signs of the disease.
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers, and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks are among the players that have been diagnosed within the last few months.
Mumps, which is a contagious infection that causes swelling of the salivary glands, fever and aches, is now considered a rare disease in the United States. Since the MMR vaccination became popular in the 1970s, the number of annual cases of measles, mumps and rubella has decreased exponentially. The total cases of mumps plummeted from hundreds of thousands annually to only 1,078 in 2014 (note that this statistic is cases reported as of November 29th). In 2013, these numbers were even lower, with only 438 people diagnosed with mumps. These small numbers are largely due to the MMR vaccine; although it is not 100 percent effective, it prevents the vast majority of cases of mumps, especially when the two dose series is completed.
These doses are primarily given during early childhood, or by the age of 6. Notably, some players, like Sidney Crosby, had been immunized against the virus as children, but they still became sick. This is likely due to a falling off of immunity over time, which can occur with childhood vaccinations, making adult boosters important. After the outbreak began, the Pittsburgh Penguins and other NHL teams performed titer testing to check for immunity and offered adult booster immunizations to those who showed low titer results.
The NHL says that most players are vaccinated, but the league does not require the MMR vaccine.
Although the outbreak is the first in the history of the NHL, there have been other mumps outbreaks that have occurred throughout the nation. According to the CDC, contagious diseases like mumps flourish in environments with close contact, as the disease is spread primarily through saliva. Previous outbreaks have occurred on college campuses, campgrounds, and small religious communities.
The incubation period for mumps is 16-18 days, but it can be longer. The most obvious visual symptom of mumps is extreme swelling of the jaw. The disease is typically contagious for about 5 days following swelling, but it can be transmitted before symptoms are ever present.
The most effective defense against mumps is the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). If you are unsure about your vaccination history, you can order a titer test, as many NHL teams chose to do.
Besides being minimally invasive (only a blood sample is needed), a titer test helps to eliminate the possibility of receiving a vaccine that may be unnecessary for you.