Canadian who contracted cave disease in Cuba warns travellers of risk
A Newfoundland woman who said she contracted a disease linked to bat droppings during a trip to Cuba is warning other travellers to avoid cave excursions on the island.
Terri Murphy, 34, said she is one of eight Newfoundlanders to come down with cave disease, also known as histoplasmosis, during a trip to Varadero earlier this month. Others are being tested, she said.
“My life has been altered. I can’t do what I used to do,” Murphy told NTV News on Friday.
The mother of two won an all-inclusive vacation to Varadero in the spring through Sunwing Airlines. During the trip Murphy visited Cueva Saturno, or Saturn Cave, a destination included in a Sunwing excursion.
Murphy said she didn’t notice anything wrong until about two weeks after arriving home when she woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and unable to breathe.
“I actually thought that I was coming down with the flu,” she said.
As her condition worsened, Murphy decided to go to hospital. The woman said cancer-like nodules showed up on her lungs, and doctors struggled to diagnose her. But then, Murphy said, doctors began to make connections between the woman’s case and those of other recent travellers to the tropical destination.
“They contacted Eastern Health and said, ‘We have a group of travellers that went on the exact same excursion together and they’re sick,’” Murphy said.
Cave disease is a condition associated with bird and bat droppings. It is especially common in caves and is spread when a person breathes in tiny, microscopic fungal spores. Complications from the disease can last up to a year, depending on the severity of the case.
Murphy recalled seeing bats flitting throughout the cave.
“Everywhere. They were everywhere,” she said.
Murphy said she decided to take her story public after learning that Sunwing still offers the cave excursion to travellers.
Sunwing responded in a statement, saying: “We are not aware of any customer complaints regarding histoplasmosis or any other disease or health issue related to either this excursion or to any of the other excursions that we operate.”
Newfoundland health officials issued a statement Friday afternoon warning international travellers of cave disease.
“Symptoms can include cough and chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and chills, headaches and flu-like illness. If you feel you may have contracted histoplasmosis, please contact your healthcare provider or proceed to the nearest emergency department,” Eastern Health said in a Facebook post.