Newly-Rescued Thai Soccer Team May Be at Risk of 'Cave Disease'

thai cave rescue boys risk cave disease

After enduring 17 days trapped underground, a team of 12 boys and their soccer coach were finally rescued from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand. They entered the cave in June and couldn’t escape after heavy rains caused the cave to fill with water.

Despite the good news, the boys’ worries may not be over just yet. Officials from the Thai health department explained to news site Kom Chat Luek that they were waiting for blood tests to clear the boys of any infections, according to The Guardian. Until doctors can determine the group is healthy, the children aren’t even allowed to hug or touch their loved ones.

Initial test results show that two of the boys have lung infections, according to ABC News, though the piece did not specify details of their illness.

However, being trapped underground for long periods of time does put the boys at risk of histoplasmosis, a lung infection known as “cave disease” that’s caused by a fungus found in damp soil lurking in barns, pigeon coops, and caves. This particular condition is not contagious, but health officials are still having the boys take extra precautions because they could be at risk of other contagious infections.

Monks lead lead a morning prayer on July 7, for the 13 people trapped in a Thailand cave.
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What is Cave Disease?

The lung infection is caused by breathing in histoplasmosis fungus spores found in bird and bat poop.

Soil that’s rich in bird and bat droppings provides an ideal environment for the fungus, which is why bird coops, barns, caves, and parks are commonly contaminated. Histoplasmosis is transmitted through the air and can’t be spread through people, meaning it’s not contagious. While usually treatable, cave disease can in rare cases be fatal if the infection spreads to other organs.

The infection is detected through blood or urine sample tests.

What are the symptoms of Cave Disease?

The severity of cave disease ranges. In its mildest form, patients can exhibit no symptoms at all, but severe cases could be dangerous if the infection spreads to the brain and spinal cord.

Symptoms of a mild infection include fever, chills, headaches, chest pain, coughs and fatigue. These set in three to 17 days after exposure, meaning the boys would already begin exhibiting signs if they were infected (and their cases were severe enough to warrant symptoms). Patients with more severe cases could develop shortness of breath, night sweats, and weight loss.

Rescuers attempt to enter the Tham Luang cave on June 30, to free the 13 trapped people.
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How is Cave Disease treated?

Patients with a mild case of the infection may get better without any medication in about a month. But those whose histoplasmosis is more serious, or if the infection has spread to other areas of the body, may be prescribed an anti-fungal medication. Treatment ranges from three months up to one year, depending on the infection’s severity.

Can You Prevent Cave Disease?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent the condition except for avoiding exposure to the histoplasmosis fungus. People who have weakened immune systems from an organ transplant or HIV infections, as well as older adults and infants, are at greater risk of developing a more serious case of cave disease.

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