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NFL says league players have not had any recent cases of mumps

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By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

The NHL has seen an unusual outbreak of mumps during the first three months of the season. The issue hit an apex Saturday when reigning MVP Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins became the 14th player to be officially diagnosed with the disease.

The NFL, a similar full-contact sport with the largest rosters in professional sports where players spend days together in close quarters, has yet to be hit by the disease, according to the league.

In response to questions for a story by ESPN last week, the NFL said:


"We don't have any cases of mumps. We routinely issue newsletters on infectious diseases. We will issue one soon on the importance of immunizations."


According to the Centers for Disease Control, mumps is a contagious disease that is caused by the mumps virus.


Mumps typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, and is followed by swelling of salivary glands. Anyone who is not immune from either previous mumps infection or from vaccination can get mumps.


Before the routine vaccination program was introduced in the United States, mumps was a common illness in infants, children and young adults. Because most people have now been vaccinated, mumps has become a rare disease in the United States.


Currently, there is no specific treatment for mumps. Supportive care should be given as needed. If someone becomes very ill, they should seek medical attention. If someone seeks medical attention, they should call their doctor in advance so that they don't have to sit in the waiting room for a long time and possibly infect other patients.


USA Today Sports delved into the subject Monday, focusing on Crosby, who already has missed three games with the disease. He already had been vaccinated for the disease, including booster shots for playing overseas in the past two Winter Olympics.

The CDC said those vaccinations work for about 88 percent of the population.


Symptoms vary from player to player. The NHL players diagnosed so far have missed two to eight games.


In November, the NHL sent team physicians and trainers a package of information about mumps and what can be done to reduce the chances of it ending up in their dressing room.


It's essentially the same approach NHL teams take with trying to prevent flu. They encourage washing of hands, dedicated water bottles for each player and making sure vaccinations are up-to-date.


But as the Crosby case proves, vaccination doesn't ensure immunity to mumps.


The NFL's biggest locker room issues have been fighting MRSA-related skin and bone infections. The league has been aggressive about cleansing its facilities and prevent spread of the disease, which isn't always easy for a 53-man roster.

Gregory Wallace of the CDC explained for USA Today some of the particulars about mumps.


Outbreaks have become rarer over time, but the CDC sees outbreaks in the U.S. from time to time. In 2006, there were 6,000 cases reported. In 2009-10, there were 3,000.


Mumps is spread through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person through coughing, sneezing or talking.


It's possible that it could be passed from one player to another through physical contact on the ice, but Wallace said that would not be the common way to transmit it. The far more common way is for teammates to give it to each other.

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