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Medicine Hat mumps outbreak prompts alert as virus hits hockey team

There are nine confirmed cases in the south zone, says Alberta Health Services, seven of those affected are coaches and players on WHL Tigers team.

Alberta Health Services notifies schools, physicians and public health nurses to watch for symptoms

A mumps outbreak in Medicine Hat, Alta. has authorities worried it could spread to communities with low vaccination rates. (Johanna LeguerreAFP/Getty Images)

An outbreak of the mumps in the Medicine Hat area has benched several Western Hockey League players, and Alberta Health Services says it's likely just the beginning. 

According to AHS, there are nine lab-confirmed cases of mumps the south zone. Seven of those cases are players and coaches with the local WHL team, the Tigers. The other two have had direct contact with the team. 

Vivien Suttorp, lead medical officer of health for southern Alberta, steps have been taken to contain the spread, which could be province-wide.

"At this point, a lot of that strategy is there's targeted messaging to, for example, hockey teams that might have been exposed," said Suttorp.

Containment

Alberta Health Services has also notified schools and post-secondary institutions across the province and alerted physicians and public health nurses to be on the lookout for symptoms. 

Hockey teams have been told to ensure locker rooms and equipment is cleaned and to avoid sharing saliva through things like water bottles and towels. 

Those showing symptoms — which include low-level fever, headache and swollen facial glands — should be isolated for five days. 

7 players and coaches sick

The first player to be diagnosed with the mumps plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings. His case was confirmed on Feb. 7, 2017. The Tigers' John Dahlström was diagnosed just last Tuesday.

Dahlström's roommate at his billet family's home had to move out as Dahlstrom was quarantined with the illness. He returned to the ice last night, and even scored a goal.

Tigers' player John Dahlstrom says he was very sick for two days with a fever and swollen and sore throat. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

"From what I heard from the other guys it's been a little bit worse for them than me, so I was a little bit lucky there," he said.

Coach Shawn Clouston said he hopes the worst is over, but as mumps has a 25-day incubation period, they will have to wait and see.

"I think the challenging part is that it does have that long incubation period. I've done so much reading in the past week to try to understand what is going on … we're hopeful that we're at the end of it."

In a statement, the WHL said they have been working closely with medical staff and health authorities to minimize the spread of the virus.

The mumps outbreak prompted the Medicine Hat Tigers hockey team to put labels on the water bottles to make sure players don't share them. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

"With the assistance of the health authorities, WHL Clubs' experienced medical and training staff are continuing to ensure sanitization, early detection and quarantine protocols are being followed diligently," the statement read.

Vaccination rates

Suttorp said the Medicine Hat area has high vaccination rates, but the rates vary in southern Alberta. CBC News recently reported on vast differences between the communities of Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod. 

Rates for the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine in Medicine Hat is 89.4 per cent. 

"Of course, there's always worry with mumps, when we see further spread, that it ends up in some of our lower immunized communities and lower immunized schools," she said. 

Those who contract mumps can experience complications including meningitis, inflammation of the testicles and pancreatitis. 

With files from CBC's Sarah Lawrynuik

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