NHL reinforces mumps guidelines

ByKatie Strang via ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The NHL has taken another step in light of the baffling mumps outbreak, sending out additional, more specific information about curtailing the disease and preventing further transmission.

The league initially sent a memo to all 30 teams in November, one that was pretty basic and similar to the type disseminated during any flu outbreak. The NHL sent out another league-wide memo Tuesday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to ESPN.com in a telephone interview.

Though the basis of the information and the recommended treatment guidelines have not changed -- "there aren't many out-of-the-box solutions," Daly said -- the memo did outline a more definitive protocol in handling such situations.

"I think it was far more specific is what I'd say," Daly said. "We drilled down to specific expectations in terms of putting someone in charge at the club level to make sure things are getting handled appropriately. The basis of information hasn't changed. Everyone knows what the disease is, how it is transmitted and the steps that need to be taken to minimize outbreak."

Tuesday's memo reinforced those guidelines.

"As much as anything else, it's consciousness-raising with respect to what the practices are, people taking extra precautions and being extra careful," Daly said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 15 players from five teams had been diagnosed with the mumps, with three more players from the Pittsburgh Penguins undergoing tests to confirm whether they have been infected with the disease.

Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with the vaccine-preventable disease after appearing at the team's morning skate Friday with large swelling on his face, considered to be a hallmark symptom of the disease.

As for concern, Daly feels that most of that is overblown due to the media firestorm the rather odd and unusual diagnosis has created. He does not envision any serious impact to the league as a result.

"The thing I take the most comfort in is that, of most experts in the area here -- and we've talked to a lot -- no one is as concerned as the media is," Daly said. "It's not this scourge that's going to end things for the league or force us to shut down."

Daly said the league's infection control subcommittee has been working to provide teams the sort of support they require on a circumstance-specific basis.

But the league has also left many things to the teams' respective medical staff's discretion. According to two team sources, the league has not been heavy-handed in its involvement, though neither indicated that a more aggressive approach would have made any discernible difference anyway.

Neither the league nor a team's medical staff can force a player to be immunized, though most teams are strongly encouraging their players to receive boosters. The vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is believed to be about 88 percent effective.

As for what may lie ahead, Daly said the league is not worried about a more serious illness, such as meningitis, affecting its players as a result of the mumps virus.

"I've been given no reason to believe there is anything to be concerned about beyond the mumps," Daly said.

Transmission outside the NHL ranks has been another hot-button issue. Penguins forward Beau Bennett was diagnosed with the mumps after visiting the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh recently, leading many to wonder about children that might have been exposed.

According to Dr. Michael Green of the CHP's pediatric infectious diseases division, none of the children exposed to Bennett on that visit have been placed in isolation as a result. Green said on a conference call that, according to Bennett's timeline, he is doubtful to have been infectious at the time, though the hospital continues to take precautions and monitor accordingly.

Since that news, several NHL teams, including the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, have decided to postpone their visits, opting to err on the side of caution.

As for each club's decision whether to participate in holiday charity functions or hospital visits, the league has chosen not to intervene.

"I think most of our clubs have a handle on what their population is and what their risks are or have been, and they'll manage their affairs accordingly," Daly said. "I think a league-wide ban would be an overreaction."

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