Two days after Sidney Crosby was scratched for the Penguins’ weekend contests, the team confirmed what most who had seen his swollen face Friday suspected – the Pittsburgh captain is now one of 14 NHL players to be diagnosed with mumps.
Crosby, who participated in the Penguins’ morning skate and media scrums Friday, was diagnosed Saturday and is being quarantined in isolation for five days, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation.
Crosby’s swelling appeared after he stopped taking medication to reduce swelling from an unrelated salivary gland injury he sustained November 28 against Carolina; he tested negative for mumps at that time. “It clearly confuses the picture, and we had to do a series of tests because he had swelling on that side of the neck,” said Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, the Penguins’ team physician. “We tried to stay ahead of it.”
Thursday, as he continued to have swelling and not feel well, Crosby was held out of practice and again tested for mumps. When that test also came back negative, he was cleared to rejoin the team Friday and planned to play that night, until “his condition worsened,” Dr. Vyas said.
Perhaps most baffling is that Crosby was not only up-to-date on vaccinations but received a booster shot for mumps prior to leaving for the Sochi Olympics in February, and was tested the week of November 24, along with the rest of the team, as the disease spread in the NHL. At that time, his titer test – which measures the level of antibodies protecting an individual against a disease – came back among the highest on the team; Penguins players and staff with low titers were immunized.
“That’s why it came about as a bit of a surprise,” Dr. Vyas said. “He was well-protected from an antibody standpoint; he also had no symptoms, such as fever, chills or generalized body aches, but nevertheless we continued to follow him closely. This is a rapidly evolving process.
“We then did a series of tests on him, including specifically sending out DNA for PCR testing to the CDC, which is a highly sophisticated test. We kept him out from the Calgary game [Friday] in anticipation of the test results and we found out [Saturday] night that the test results came back positive. This is a self-resolving process and we’ll evaluate him daily.”
Even when advanced testing was ordered, Crosby did not present with typical mumps symptoms.
“He didn’t have the classic presentation of mumps,” Dr. Vyas said. “The majority of mumps is bilateral, on both sides of the face, and [his] was just one side.”
Crosby’s teammates will receive further testing if they develop symptoms. “We’ll keep all these things in mind, the fact that the players have been vaccinated but nevertheless can still contract the virus, so we’ll definitely continue to maintain a high level of vigilance.”
That includes sterilizing the locker rooms, as the team has been doing on a regular basis since the mumps outbreak started, as well as what Dr. Vyas called “general viral precautions like washing hands, not sharing water bottles, as much as we can for a professional hockey team.”
In addition to missing the Penguins’ weekend contests – a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames and a 4-3 overtime loss at Columbus – Crosby will not play Monday, when the Penguins host the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has not yet been ruled out for games later in the week, when the Penguins host the Colorado Avalanche Thursday and the Florida Panthers Saturday.
Fortunately for the Penguins, they’ve gained plenty of experience filling in for players with injuries, illnesses and other conditions in recent seasons. Their latest roster adjustments include losing forward Zach Sill and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo to injury, recalling forwards Bryan Rust and Bobby Farnham and highly touted defenseman Scott Harrington from the AHL, and demoting forward Jayson Megna after a poor game Friday in which he took four minor penalties.
Through a season where change has been the only constant for the Penguins, all they can do is adapt, and they’ve done that well enough to be on top of the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference as of Sunday, with a 19-6-4 record and 42 points.
“Lot of guys rolling in and out of the locker room over the last couple weeks,” said forward Brandon Sutter. “You come to the rink, worry about your own game and all that really changes is who you’re playing with; once you see [your linemates] on the board, you go from there. We’ve had a lot of guys out, there’s a bit of adjustment, but we’ve played solid. Good job staying with it.”