It’s a story trending in Canada because, well, mix anything with hockey in Canada and it will trend. But this particular news has ramifications far beyond the world of pucks and sticks and skates.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player in the world, has been all over the television of late, sporting a cartoonishly swollen face. Crosby, like as many as a dozen other NHL’ers, has the mumps. The outbreak has affected at least five NHL teams and dumbfounded the team’s training staff, who have not seen anything like it. Crosby has been placed in solitary confinement.
The mumps shouldn’t exist. But they do. Why? because some simply refuse to get a vaccination that is proven to prevent the illness. And we all have to live with the consequences of their actions because many of these diseases are off-the-charts contagious. The mumps can be spread through coughing, sneezing, a Gatorade bottle on the bench, a right cross to the face from a Boston Bruins goon. You get the picture.
Some of the people currently spreading the mumps self-identify with the anti-vaccination movement, a dangerous and scantly informed craze that is probably best known for semi-celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who claimed her son’s autism was caused by a vaccine. It was later debated as to whether her son had autism to begin with.
McCarthy was taking her cues from a fraudulent 1998 research paper written by the discredited former surgeon Andrew Wakefield, a charlatan who had planned to launch a venture that would line his pockets on the back of bad science.
As Alexandra Sifferlin wrote in TIME Magazine earlier this year, the dumb-dumb trend is accelerating.
“Diseases that are and have been avoidable in the U.S. thanks to vaccines, are resurfacing all across the country. Measles, for instance, was considered wiped out in 2000, but there have been several outbreaks in the past few years.”
The anti-vaccination movement is strong enough that is has begun to put a dent in diseases that were thought to be eradicated. Scientists consider an eradication level of 95% ensured what is referred to as “herd immunity” or “community immunity”. Achieving this herd immunity is important because the mumps vaccine is just 88% effective, explaining why someone can easily contract the disease even if they have been vaccinated, as Crosby was.
But diseases like Measles, Whooping Cough and Chicken Pox are on the rise again. Sifferlin details a case in 2011 in which a unvaccinated Berkeley student was the suspected source of an outbreak that resulted in 29 cases on the school’s California campus. Earlier this year, in Ohio, a serious outbreak of the mumps hit central Ohio, a state that had already been dealing with a record outbreak of measles.
In July, the Washington State Department of Health reported the first confirmed measles death in the United States in 12 years.
In Crosby’s home province of Nova Scotia, where there are no anti-vaccination campaigns, there has not been an outbreak of the measles.
The province in which Crosby played his junior hockey, Quebec, recently suffered an outbreak of measles that soared to 119 confirmed cases.
The good news for hockey fans is that Sidney Crosby should be back on the ice very soon. Patients diagnosed with the mumps normally recover in about a week. In rare cases, however, serious complications such as meningitis, encephalitis, and deafness might occur.
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How long will it be before a vaccine preventable disease presents a much more serious scare? In the 1960’s, a time when Crosby’s still-living predecessors Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull were filling seats at NHL arenas, there were 400 annual deaths and 50,000 annual hospitalizations from the measles.
The anti-vaccination movement is more dangerous and misinformed than it even knows. If the Canadian public can be educated about the risks of bad science through hockey, our national sport might prove educational as well as entertaining.