By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Washington Capitals left wing Quintin Laing has received a diagnosis of H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, a team official confirmed Wednesday.
Laing, who was sent home upon arriving at the team's Arlington practice facility Tuesday morning and missed his first game of the season that night, is taking anti-virus drug Tamiflu and resting, a team spokesman said. He is being kept isolated from his wife and two infant sons and won't return to the team until he is symptom-free in an effort to prevent the spread of the flu, which has become a concern nationally for sports leagues in both the amateur and professional ranks.
Laing is believed to be the fourth NHL player with the virus. Edmonton's Ladislav Smid, Colorado's Peter Budaj and Doug Weight of the New York Islanders also have had swine flu diagnosed, according to media reports.
Ben Shaffer, president of the NHL physicians society and the Capitals' team doctor, said the NHL sent a memo to its 30 teams in September outlining the symptoms, prevention methods and a protocol for reporting swine flu cases to the league.
As of Wednesday morning, no other Capitals were suffering from flu-like symptoms. But the team has begun taking additional precautions to prevent other players from becoming infected, which figures to be a difficult task considering players use the same locker room and showers, travel in close proximity on buses and charter flights, eat together and share hotel rooms.
"The most important thing is having a high index of suspicion and communicating that to the health-care personnel and players so that everyone is taking precautions," Shaffer said. "There's an information sheet that is posted in the locker rooms, so there's been a very proactive approach to do as much as we can. There's no way you can do more than that until the vaccine becomes [widely] available."
Laing had three of the four symptoms when he was examined by Capitals head athletic trainer Greg Smith, who sent the player to team internist Chris Walsh.
"The proper terminology is that he was diagnosed but not tested," Capitals spokesman Nate Ewell said. "He was tested for common flu, or seasonal flu. That turned up negative, but he was showing symptoms for H1N1, so he's being treated as such."
Ewell added that the practice of diagnosing swine flu without testing is common because it is cost-prohibitive.
According to media reports, the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and two teammates tested positive for Influenza A in mid-October and were treated by the team as if they had the H1N1 virus as a preventative measure. Professional swimmer Kate Ziegler of Great Falls said she had swine flu; she missed the U.S. championships in July because of it.
Before Wednesday's practice, Smith met with the players and coaches to inform them of the symptoms commonly associated with swine flu and urge them to contact him immediately if they begin to feel unwell. Smith told the players and coaches to be on the lookout for a fever of more than 101 degrees, body aches, sore throat and congestion, and coughing.
"I'm hoping to shake fewer hands," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It gets in your hands and fingers, and germs get in your cuticles. Everybody you meet is nice and wants to shake your hand. You don't want to be rude and say no, but . . ."
Tyler Sloan, Laing's roommate on the road, added: "When I first heard, I was concerned for Quintin and his family because he's got two boys and one is under the age of 2, so it's kind of scary. Everything's okay now. I texted him and he's doing okay."
Sloan said he feels fine, but is taking Tamiflu and gargling salt water -- just to be safe.
Team captain Chris Clark said bottles of hand sanitizer have been placed around Kettler Capitals Iceplex in recent days. Prior to being admitted to the Capitals' locker room after Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Flyers, reporters were asked by a security guard to use hand sanitizer.
"If you get the flu, it's either going to run through a team or it's not, depending on whether guys keep their hygiene up," Clark said. "Guys who don't normally wash their hands are [washing them] now.
"We're always together," Clark added. "We're sharing water bottles, we're sharing towels. Guys are on the plane sneezing on one another and fooling around. But it's stuff we aren't doing as much of now."
About two weeks ago, all of the Capitals were offered shots to guard against the seasonal flu. Some took the shot, some did not. Brooks Laich decided against it.
"Personally, I'm not worried about it," Laich said. "There are ways of lowering your exposure, but you could go to a grocery store and get it."
For Laing, contracting swine flu is the latest health scare for one of the team's grittiest players. Eight months ago, he suffered a torn spleen in his only game in a Capitals sweater, ending his season with Washington.
"He's a hard-luck guy," Boudreau said. "But one thing about Quintin is he'll be battling back. He said, 'Hey, I'm fine. I can play.' But we're being overly cautious. We don't want him in the hotel room with guys, traveling on the plane. Because we don't want this to catch on."
Capitals notes: Tomas Fleischmann (blood clot in his leg) returned from his conditioning stint with the minor league Hershey Bears and was put on the active roster, meaning he could make his season debut Thursday in Atlanta. . . . Alexandre Giroux was reassigned to Hershey.