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‘Rash of sickness’ hits Crosby, Penguins

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Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) prepares for a face off during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford provides an update on Crosby during a news conference Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Consol Energy Center.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford provides an update on Crosby during a news conference Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Consol Energy Center.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford provides an update on Crosby during a news conference Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Consol Energy Center.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Penguins team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas gives a news conference discussing star player Sidney Crosby's mumps diagnosis on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Penguins team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas gives a news conference discussing star player Sidney Crosby's mumps diagnosis on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford provides an update on Crosby during a news conference Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Consol Energy Center.

The NHL’s mumps outbreak reached a crescendo Sunday when it claimed the league’s biggest name in Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

“With what’s going on right now, it’s definitely a concern,” Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “It’s out there, not only for athletes but all people. It’s a rash of sickness that I can’t recall seeing since I’ve been in the NHL.”

Awareness, thanks in part to Crosby’s case, is at an all-time high.

Crosby is the 13th NHL player to get the mumps. The New York Rangers announced Sunday they believe forward Derick Brassard also has a suspected case of mumps. He would be the 14th player.

Crosby makes the Penguins the fifth team to have a confirmed case of the mumps this season. They have played the other four teams.

“It’s obvious we’re concerned about it,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Sunday at Consol Energy Center during the announcement that Crosby had the mumps. “It’s a disease that’s going throughout the league, and you just don’t know how far it can spread.”

It’s difficult to say how the outbreak started, but a decent marking point might be when Minnesota and St. Louis shared the same visitor’s dressing room at Anaheim on Oct. 17 and Oct. 19.

Anaheim was the first team to have someone diagnosed with the mumps.

The Penguins allowed Crosby to participate in a morning skate Friday despite a swollen face, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he didn’t think the Penguins made a mistake.

“The biggest issue we face in continuing to battle this outbreak is the relatively extended period of time that exists between contraction and the onset of definitive symptoms,” Daly wrote in an email. “But every team is aware, all are taking necessary precautions, and, hopefully, it’s just a matter of time until we get past this.”

For the Penguins, that has meant administering additional immunization shots as well as monitoring and conducting tests to learn whether a player’s immunity has waned.

“Trying to avoid transmission is probably the best way of getting this controlled,” Penguins team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas said. “There’s no pharmacological, medical treatment for it. It’s just trying to curb the transmission from person to person.”

The NHL Players’ Association has been in contact with the NHL through the infectious disease subcommittee within the NHL/NHLPA joint health and safety committee.

“The NHLPA has been actively educating the players regarding the recent outbreak while providing best practices on how to avoid contracting and spreading mumps,” NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon said in a statement.

Even if Daly, Rutherford or Vyas don’t have a problem with the Penguins’ handling of the case — Crosby recently tested negative for the disease — Crosby all but certainly was around the locker room when he was contagious.

He will be in isolation at least through Monday’s game against Tampa Bay, Vyas said.

“In general, people are infectious from above two days before the onset of symptoms until five days after onset of swelling,” said Dr. Kristen Mertz, medical epidemiologist with the Allegheny County Health Department. “Generally when the diagnosis is made, we tell people to stay home for the rest of the infectious period.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security, has been closely following the NHL mumps outbreak and figured Crosby had mumps as soon as he saw a picture of the team captain Friday.

But he also said it’s necessary to exercise some measure of restraint. It’s mumps, he said, not something worse.

“Mumps is not something that we need to panic about,” Adalja said. “There still needs to be more recognition that we’re going to be in for a flu season that’s pretty rough rather than a major health crisis from a mumps outbreak in NHL players.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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