The world celebrated on Tuesday as the last players of a youth soccer team and their coach were rescued from the depths of a flooded cave in Thailand after more than two weeks, but fears for their future health now surround the survivors.
In addition to treating the boys for dehydration, malnutrition, oxygen deprivation and other conditions, doctors at the hospital in Chiang Rai are monitoring for symptoms of diseases caused by animals and fungi in the cave.
Three boys who were rescued Tuesday were brought to the nearby hospital to join the eight others already there in isolation wards. The last boy and his coach were treated on site at a medical center, CNN reports. (RELATED: REPORT: All Boys And Coach Freed From Thai Cave)
The families of the boys have been allowed to see their sons through a glass window in the isolation units and were allowed to talk on the phone, Jedsada Chokedamrongsook, the Thai Health Ministry secretary said.
“The reason they’re in isolation is, when your body is without natural light for that long – since you’re literally living in a cave – your body starts to change. Certain things get ramped up. Certain things get ramped down. One thing that often gets ramped down is the immune system,” Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said according to CNN.
With weakened immune systems, the young boys are at a higher risk of infection.
“The next step is to make sure those kids and their families are safe, because living in a cave has a different environment, which might contain animals that could transmit…disease,” a statement from Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital reportedly said.
Cave disease, also called histoplasmosis, is a lung infection caused by the fungus Histoplasma, which thrives in areas with high bird or bat populations, and is one such condition the young boys are at risk for.
“People can get histoplasmosis after breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, often after participating in activities that disturb the soil. Although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, those who do may have a fever, cough, and fatigue,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website.
While the CDC says many people who contract cave disease can get better on their own with medication, it also says that the infection can become severe for those who have weakened immune systems, causing the disease to spread from the lungs to other parts of the body.
“Caves make excellent environments for bats and bats make excellent reservoir for many viruses,” Hosam Zowawi, a research fellow and group leader at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research said in a statement for the Australian Science Media Centre.
Caves are known to be special breeding grounds for Histoplasmosis because of their unique environment that is a breeding ground for fungus. With more than two million people each year exploring caves, it is becoming an increasingly common cause of infection, Petrina Craine, an emergency medicine resident physician wrote for ABC.
While the fungus is still a potential worry, some disease experts say the boys’ location in the cave makes it unlikely that they had much contact with bats or other animals.
“It’s hard to imagine bats got that deep into the cave because of all those narrow passageways, but it is possible,” Ian Lipkin, a zoonotic expert and professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, told the Scientific American.
The health secretary, Chokedamrongsook, said the boys will be evaluated by doctors for five to seven days.
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