What Is Cave Disease? Doctors Will Now Monitor Thai Boys for Histoplasmosis

The boys may have breathed in dangerous fungal spores.

by Josie Rhodes Cook

All 12 boys from a youth soccer team and their coach have now been rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand after they spent more than two weeks trapped inside. The next step is helping them through recovery, and doctors are watching for one specific type of complication in the health of the Thai cave boys: cave disease.

Cave disease, also known as Histoplasmosis, is an infection caused by a fungus called Histoplasma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The fungus lives in the environment, particularly in soil with large amounts of bird or bat droppings, and people can get histoplasmosis after breathing in microscopic fungal spores.

What Are the Symptoms of Cave Disease?

Since the boys just spent a significant amount of time in a cave that could easily have those spores, doctors are going to watch for signs of cave disease and other infections in members of the young soccer team.

Many people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, the CDC reports, and most people who do get sick get better on their own without medication. But people who fall ill with cave disease may have a fever, cough, fatigue, chills, headache, chest pain, and body aches. And the symptoms of histoplasmosis can appear anywhere between 3 and 17 days after a person breathes in fungal spores.

However, the CDC reports that severe histoplasmosis can occur in some people, particularly those with weakened immune systems. In some cases, histoplasmosis can develop into a long-term lung infection, or spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, like the central nervous system.

The Thai soccer team in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave

Guardian News/YouTube

How Is Cave Disease Treated?

Officials said Tuesday local time at a press conference that at least two of the first four Thai cave boys who were rescued are suffering from lung infections, based on blood tests. And though their tests are pending, all of them are likely infected, ABC News reported Tuesday.

The most common way that doctors test for histoplasmosis is by taking a blood sample or a urine sample, the CDC reports. Local media reported some of the boys have undergone blood tests and lung X-rays, as well as urine tests, and until their blood work comes back, there will be “no hugging, no touching” between the boys and their families, Canada’s Global News reported Monday.

The symptoms of histoplasmosis usually go away without treatment, the CDC reports. But prescription antifungal medication may be needed to treat severe histoplasmosis in the lungs, chronic histoplasmosis, and disseminated histoplasmosis, which is when infections spread from the lungs to other parts of the body.

Though the Thai cave boys have been rescued from the cave itself, a full recovery may still be a ways out.

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