What is 'cave disease' and are Thailand's trapped boys at risk?
As rescuers in Thailand continue working to extract the remaining eight boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave complex, the children’s health -- both physical and mental -- is a major concern.
One illness they may be at risk of developing is histoplasmosis.
Also known as “cave disease” and “spelunker’s lung,” histoplasmosis is a disease that is caused by breathing in spores of the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum.
“These are spores that reside frequently in caves and are often found in the excretions of bats,” Dr. Paul Auerbach, a professor of emergency medicine at California’s Stanford University, told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Most cases of histoplasmosis primarily affect a patient’s lungs.
“In a person with a normal immune system, histoplasmosis usually occurs and the patient never knows that they have it,” Auerbach explained. “They may get a bit of a fever, a bit of a cough and it seems like a viral illness and it just passes. So that’s the majority of cases.”
According to the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms generally manifest in three to 17 days after exposure to the spores. Other symptoms include chills, headaches, muscle aches and chest discomfort.
While the disease is relatively benign in most cases, for infants and people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly and those with AIDS, histoplasmosis can be incredibly serious, leading to tuberculosis-like symptoms such as coughing up blood. In such cases, called disseminated histoplasmosis, the disease can also affect nearly every part of the body and even lead to death if left untreated.
“In less common cases, it can become a more serious disease, particularly in people that suffer from any significant immunosuppression,” Auerbach said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, coming into contact with soil contaminated by bird and bat droppings can also cause histoplasmosis, putting farmers, pest control workers, poultry keepers, construction workers, roofers, landscapers and gardeners at risk as well as cave explorers.