The Royals announced yesterday that pitcher Kelvin Herrera and outfielder Alex Rios have contracted chicken pox and are expected to be out at least two weeks. While it may seem like an amusing story at first, adult chicken pox can be quite serious and painful. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases warns that:
Early symptoms may include body aches, fever, fatigue, and irritability. A rash then appears and develops into as many as 250-500 itchy blisters over the entire body, that usually last for 5-7 days and heal with scabs. The rash may even spread into the mouth or other internal parts of the body. The illness is usually not severe, but the risk of hospitalization and death is increased among adolescents and adults. Symptoms appear between 10 and 21 days after exposure to the varicella-zoster virus. Persons who were vaccinated against chickenpox may sometimes develop chickenpox disease but the presentation is usually mild, with approximately 50 or fewer red bumps that rarely evolve to blisters.
Because symptoms appear so long after the disease is contracted, it is unknown how many other players Rios and Herrera put at risk by being around them. Rios was said to have noticed symptoms on Friday in Tampa Bay. Chicken pox can be spread "in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes" or "by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters", according to the Center for Disease Control.
Herrera, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, is particularly at risk since most Latin American countries do not have national immunization programs for children, and it is less likely they would have contracted the disease as a child, naturally immunizing him. Alex Rios, who was born in Alabama and grew up in Puerto Rico, also did not contract chicken pox as a child. A vaccine for chicken pox was not developed until 1995, so even American-born players may be at risk, but only 10 percent of Americans reach the age of 15 without ever contracting chicken pox, according to the National Vaccine Information Center.
The Royals have done their due diligence at determining which other players are at risk. Alcides Escobar just happened to get vaccinated ten days ago while processing his citizenship papers. There is a small, but very unlikely chance that inoculation introduced the disease to the clubhouse. The Royals seem to think the players contracted it from a child.
The team quarantined Rios and Herrera upon discovering their symptoms, but they are not certain the illness has been contained.
"We're not sure," said General Manager Dayton Moore. "Every day that passes by, you feel a little more secure that we’re going to be okay."
According to Jeff Passan, there is no standard vaccination protocol in Major League Baseball, although at least one team has taken it upon themselves to vaccinate at-risk Latin American players. Edinson Volquez is said to have already contracted chicken pox as a child, likely immunizing him. Yordano Ventura remains at risk, although he has his own inoculation plan.
Edison Volquez said he had chickenpox as a kid. Yordano Ventura didn't but said he isn't worried. When asked why, he flexed his biceps.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 1, 2015
The Royals aren't the first team to be hit by an infectious disease. A mumps outbreak hit the NHL last season, leading to a reform for more sanitary clubhouse conditions. A Mexican soccer player was pulled from the Pan-Am Games after she was found to have chicken pox. Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith once landed on the disabled list due to chicken pox. Even starlet Angelina Jolie contracted chicken pox as an adult (Hollywood stars! So much like us!)
The Royals can likely find a way to win without Alex Rios and Kelvin Herrera, although if their illness runs into October, the club will be lacking some depth going into the post-season. Dayton Moore admitted his acquisition of Jonny Gomes was made due to the uncertainty surrounding Rios' availability over the next two months. The more worrying concern however is that the illness has already spread to any other players who did not get vaccinated or contract the disease as a child, keeping them out of action for the post-season.