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Used To Lumps And Bumps, NHL Players Now Add Mumps

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This week, two star players in the National Hockey League playing for the Minnesota Wild were benched.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Oh, benched - because of high-sticking?

GREENE: You don't get benched for that, Steve.

INSKEEP: Oh, sorry. Some kind of fighting, major penalty?

GREENE: No, no, no, no, no. They actually didn't do anything wrong. They actually were put in isolation for five days because they had the mumps. So did one of the assistant coaches for the team. They had that viral infection that causes fevers, achiness and also visible swelling of the glands in the throat.

HEMAL JHAVERI: It started with the Vancouver Canucks.

INSKEEP: That is Hemal Jhaveri, who's a hockey reporter for USA Today, who says the Canucks had seven players and a trainer show symptoms.

JHAVERI: And then it has worked its way to the Minnesota Wild, where it's affected two of their high-profile players.

GREENE: Now, amazingly, this is not the first time the NHL has had a mumps outbreak. Jhaveri covered this last one back in 2014.

INSKEEP: She says that time, a couple dozen players on five different teams were sidelined, including for one of the game's biggest stars, Sidney Crosby. And here's what's odd about the return of the mumps.

JHAVERI: All NHL players were given vaccine boosters. Players got boosters right before they went to Sochi for the Winter Olympics.

GREENE: That vaccine does work. The mumps declined by 99 percent after it was introduced in the 1960s. But turns out, a single mumps vaccine is not a hundred percent effective. Two are recommended.

INSKEEP: Even when most people are vaccinated, the CDC says that outbreaks can still occur in close-contact settings. And hockey is a very physical sport with a lot of spit, occasionally blood, flying around. And then there's this.

JHAVERI: The Wild recently had a great overtime win where all the players embraced in a giant group hug at the end of the game, where they do what NHL calls a face wash, where they take a sweaty hand and rub it in the face of a player that they think did a great job.

GREENE: I got an idea - maybe a little less of that face washing.

JHAVERI: Absolutely not. I think that that would take away any of the joy and spirit behind the sport. It would make it so sterile. What would we do without hockey hugs? Come on.

INSKEEP: I love that point of view. OK, so let's go back to the source, Canada. The Minnesota Wild played the Vancouver Canucks last month, when they were extremely contagious.

GREENE: And we should note, a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup in more than two decades.

INSKEEP: Because of the mumps.

GREENE: So it makes you wonder if accidentally spreading an infection to a high-flying American team might be Canada's only hope.

(SOUNDBITE OF OK IKUMI'S "HEIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.