What is 'cave disease'? Thai soccer team placed in isolation as doctors monitor for infections
After two harrowing weeks trapped inside a dark, damp cave, the entire Thai soccer team — 12 players, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach — has been successfully rescued from the Tham Luan Nang Non cave.
Thai Navy SEALS saved the remaining four boys and the team's coach on Tuesday, completing their high-risk mission through rising floodwaters.
The conditions of those saved on Tuesday were unclear. However, health officials said the eight boys brought out by divers on Sunday and Monday were doing well — some even requesting treats. The players all appeared "healthy and smiling," officials said.
The dangerous search and rescue mission is over, but the boys and their coach may have another potential battle ahead of them: "cave disease," also known as histoplasmosis.
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Here's what you need to know about "cave disease" and the journey the team has ahead of them as they recover.
What is "cave disease?"
"Cave disease," also called histoplasmosis, is a lung infection caused by the fungus "Histoplasma," which thrives in areas with high bird or bat populations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"People can get histoplasmosis after breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, often after participating in activities that disturb the soil," the CDC explains in a blog post online. "Although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, those who do may have a fever, cough, and fatigue."
Most people who contract histoplasmosis just need time to recover, but those who have weakened immune systems could be at risk for serious, sometimes fatal, infections.
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"In some people, such as those who have weakened immune systems, the infection can become severe, especially if it spreads from the lungs to other organs," the CDC says.
There is medicine to treat the disease, however. According to the CDC, many doctors prescribe the antifungal medication Itraconazole, which may need to be taken anywhere from three months to a year in order to completely fight off the infection.
What is the health status of the Thai soccer team and their coach?
Thailand's Navy SEALs confirmed that all 12 boys and their coach are safe and have been transported via helicopter to local hospitals.
Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said at least two of the boys have a lung infection.
"The kids are footballers so they have high immune systems," Chokdumrongsuk said. "Everyone is in high spirits and are happy to get out. But we will have a psychiatrist to evaluate them."
It could be at least seven days before they can be released from the hospital, Chokdumrongsuk said. Doctors are taking a cautious approach, placing the boys in isolation as they monitor their health and watch for infections.
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They are uncertain what type of infections the boys could face "because we have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave," Chokdumrongsuk added.
If medical tests show no dangers after a period of a week parents will be able to enter the isolation area dressed in sterilized clothing and staying 2 yards away from the boys, public health official Tosthep Bunthong announced at a news conference this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.