Alberta Health Services is warning a southern Alberta mumps outbreak could spread through the province after exposure to the virus through the Medicine Hat Tigers, a team in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Nine cases have been confirmed in the outbreak, “all exposed through the same hockey events,” southern Alberta medical officer Vivien Suttorp told Global News.
Suttorp said transmission between people involves spit contact, such as sharing a water bottle.
Mumps is an extremely contagious viral infection of the salivary glands. Symptoms include low level fever, headache and swollen facial glands. It takes between nine and 25 days for symptoms to show, Suttorp said. She added people are extremely contagious before symptoms appear.
“I don’t have a crystal ball but just like other diseases we’ve managed here, like whooping cough, and knowing histories of exposure and activity, I am expecting more,” Suttorp said.
WHL teams play across Canada as well as the northwest United States. The Tigers played in Calgary on Feb. 10; they’ve traveled to 11 cities between Jan. 24 and Feb. 21. Players are being asked to stay home if they show any symptoms.
The mumps were first detected in a player for the Brandon Wheat Kings before the illness spread to the Tigers earlier this month.
“Last Monday, I felt fever and swelling, so I called the doctor and he said it’s probably mumps. It’s best for me to stay home and rest,” John Dahlström, a player with the Medicine Hat Tigers, said.
A spokesperson for the Calgary Hitmen said no players on the team have been infected and there was no consideration of postponing the Feb. 23 game against the Tigers.
The Edmonton Oil Kings said it is aware of the situation and the organization is taking every precaution to minimize the risk to players.
The WHL said it has been working with all of its teams and their medical staff to minimize the spread since they were notified of the mumps diagnosis in early February.
Measures include sanitation, early detection and quarantines.
Clubs are checking with families of players to determine vaccination histories.
“My concern is that we have not had an outbreak of mumps in southern Alberta for 10 years,” Suttorp said. “So there are a lot of individuals who may choose not to immunize their children, (meaning) we have 10 years of age of kids who are not immune.”
In 2016, there were eight mumps cases in Alberta. There were nine in 2015, but as they were isolated cases, it was not considered an outbreak.
The overall vaccination rate for Medicine Hat is 89.4 per cent, Suttorp said.
With files from Brendan Parker