Regarding the mumps epidemic sweeping the NHL right now, with 14 players stricken officially, including the game's brightest star Sidney Crosby, medical experts explain that a dressing room is a perfect environment to spread this disease. Beyond the fact that this may be a new strain of the disease the regular MMR vaccine doesn't quite protect you from, and the disheartening fact that many of these players may not have been immunized to begin with, doctors explain that the mode of transmission is through saliva.
Hockey players are forever spitting, on the ice, on the bench, there's spray everywhere. They use towels, they're always handling their mouthguard, taking it out, putting it back in, and then touching everything with their contaminated fingers.
I wonder if we'll get enough players to fall ill that we'll have a large enough sample size to check if centres will be more likely to be infected. I would think their close quarters battles during faceoffs might make it easier for the virus to jump from one team to another. Idle thought.
One of the methods which seems obvious to me is water bottles, how teams will share bottles and drink from the same ones, how that would be an easy way for the virus to hopscotch from one player to another.
I remember a movement a few years ago, when a minor hockey player died from meningitis, and I think it was traced back to sharing water bottles. Anyway, all of a sudden instead of having team bottles, as we did when I was a kid, now every player’s parent was expected to buy his child a bottle and label it with his name clearly, so there would be a much lower risk of contamination.
To give credit where it’s due, Don Cherry did a lot of work on that issue, spent a few minutes on Coach’s Corner encouraging parents to equip their kid appropriately.
Also, at the Rugby World Cup in 2011, the water bottles had these raised plastic pieces guarding the spout so no one could put their mouth on it, you had to squirt, but couldn’t suck. These were meant to dramatically reduce the chance of contamination from one player to another. I thought these would become the way of the future, but I haven’t seen these types of bottles used since then.
Nowadays, especially in football, we see staff on the sidelines running around squirting water or Gatorade at players during breaks. I still don’t have a handle on this, I thought that the main reason was to ensure proper hydration, since during exercise we forget to drink, we don’t feel thirsty, and when we do, it’s too late, we’re low on fluids and can’t replenish fast enough at that point.
Anyway, I wonder if the risk of disease transmission also plays a role, we don’t want players’ spit on the bottles. Actually, anyone wouldn't want someone else's spit on their water bottle. Or, that’s what I thought.
On a road trip a couple of summers ago a friend and colleague was sitting in the passenger seat, and I had my water bottle in the holder on the middle arm rest. It’s a Camelback fancy bottle that’s spill-proof, you can use it at your computer, but you do have to suck from a straw through a mouthpiece.
So we’re driving and we’re having a good time, until he reaches and grabs my bottle and takes a big chew on the mouthpiece and a big swig of water. I’m uncomfortable for a second, he caught me off-guard, but then I realize he must have thought it was his own, since he has the same exact model.
“Uh, that’s my bottle,” I stammer out, “did you think it was yours?”
“Nah, I knew it was yours, I didn’t think that was a problem.”
And we were silent for a while, and I couldn’t read the couple in the back, how they’d read the situation. But I didn’t think I was off-base. Regular squirt bottle, have at it, sip of a drink out of my cup, maybe in some specific situations, but not out of this kind of bottle I thought. Right?
Shortly thereafter, I lost that bottle and was forced to purchase a brand new, squeaky clean, untainted bottle.