Medicine Hat mumps outbreak spreads from Tigers hockey team to broader community

A second wave of mumps is hitting the southern Alberta city, and some of those affected don't seem to have links to the original cases tied to the Medicine Hat Tigers hockey team.

Health officer concerned outbreak could spread to less-immunized communities in AHS south zone

Medicine Hat Tigers' player John Dahlstrom was one of the first confirmed cases in the city in early February. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

Medicine Hat, Alta., is currently seeing the second wave of a mumps outbreak in the city that seems to have originated from the local Western Hockey League team. 

The number of confirmed cases has increased to 15, up from nine last week. While the original nine cases could all be linked back to the Medicine Hat Tigers, some of the new cases don't have any obvious connection. 

"We've now seen that secondary spread to others, either to household members of confirmed cases, or even cases in the community with no direct link to the Western Hockey League," said Vivien Suttorp, the lead medical officer of health for AHS's south zone.

"We are now in that second wave of transmission and are embarking soon onto that further transmission third wave. Over time it will become difficult to know which wave we're in because they blur together," she said. 

Local college on alert

Last week, two students at Medicine Hat College reported they believed they had the mumps.

The college has yet to hear whether or not those cases were confirmed in a laboratory. 

"We sent out some communication to our staff and our students just in regards to the precautionary measures that they can take. But that's basically it at this time," said Lesley Tuchscherer, the college's manager of occupational health and safety. 

The college will re-evaluate their policy should more cases turn up on campus. 

Outbreak would be worse in less-immune areas

Not all people who contract mumps have the stereotypical swollen face, Suttrop said. Only about 30 per cent of individuals display those symptoms, so many people don't know they have contracted mumps and continue to pass it along.

The lack of classic symptoms, paired with long incubation periods makes it hard for Suttorp to even know where the disease is, or estimate how long the outbreak might last.

"Medicine Hat has reasonable immunization rates," Suttorp said.

"I am worried if this hits the County of Lethbridge, Fort MacLeod, Picture Butte, Iron Springs area, it's going to be there an even longer period because there are more people who are not immune."