- The 12 boys and their soccer coach who were trapped in the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand have all been rescued, but they’re now in quarantine so doctors can make sure they’re not infected with anything dangerous.
- They could have been exposed to dangerous bacteria or viruses carried by bats or rodents in the cave.
- The boys will be quarantined for at least a week before they can hug and visit with family members.
The 12 boys and their soccer coach who spent more than two weeks trapped in the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand have all been safely rescued from the cave, but their ordeal isn’t over yet.
The boys will be monitored while in isolation for at least a week at a hospital in Chiang Rai, according to officials there. They’re being treated for various minor conditions, eating, and wearing sunglasses to protect their vision after spending so much time in the dark.
In addition to all this, medical officials are concerned the boys could have been exposed to a variety of infections, including diseases carried by bats, a fungal infection sometimes called “cave disease,” or the bacterial disease leptospirosis, which can be transmitted through water. At least two boys have been treated for pneumonia.
Plus, any sort of cut or scrape could have led to an infection as the boys made their way through the cave waters.
“What we’re most concerned with is infections,” an unnamed medic involved in the rescue operation told Reuters. “There are all kinds of diseases in the cave, from bats, from dirty water. Everything in there is very dirty.”
Diseases lurking in caves
The boys didn’t report seeing any wildlife inside the caves, which could be a good sign, though that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything there.
Bats can carry several diseases that can be passed to humans and can be quite serious, ranging from rabies to the lesser-known Nipah virus, which has the potential to become a pandemic and is known to exist in Thailand.
But Nipah virus is rare, and several experts in zoonotic diseases, which can jump to people from animals, have said it’s unlikely that bats would have travelled as far into the cave as the boys did.
Still, it’s possible the soil could contain fungal spores that can cause histoplasmosis, or “cave disease.” The spores, which are found in bird or bat faeces, can get into soil and remain there for weeks or months. People who disturb that soil can then breathe in the spores and get sick.
Another bacterial infection that can be found in caves is leptospirosis, which can cause kidney damage and even meningitis, or swelling around the brain. This bacteria is spread by animal urine and could have been in the water the boys had to wade through to escape the cave.
In addition to these conditions, there are plenty of more-common illnesses the boys could have picked up by drinking cave water, which they likely had to do before their rescue. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a person’s risk of getting a serious illness goes up when their immune system is weakened, as the boys’ were.
Doctors will also be monitoring the boys’ mental health, citing the stress of being trapped underground and not knowing whether they’d get out.
In an initial assessment, doctors reported the boys were psychologically in a good state. Their coach reportedly taught them to meditate as they waited for rescue, which may have helped them deal with the terror of the situation.
If all goes well, the boys will soon be able to hug their parents and families.