The 12 boys and soccer coach that spent up to 17 days trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in Thailand have all been safely rescued from the cave, but their ordeal isn't fully over yet.
The boys will be monitored while in isolation for a week at Chiang Rai hospital, according to officials there. The boys are being treated for various minor conditions, getting re-introduced to food, 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.
"[W]hat we're most concerned with is infections," a medic involved in the rescue operation told Reuters, speaking anonymously. "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 carry a number of diseases that can be passed to humans and can be quite serious, ranging from rabies to the less-known Nipah virus, which has the potential to become a pandemic and is known to exist in Thailand.
But Nipah is rare, and several experts in zoonotic diseases — conditions that can jump from animals to people — have said it's unlikely that bats would have traveled 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 feces, 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 that 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 being rescued. Risk for serious illness goes up when people's immune systems are weakened, according to the CDC, as the boys' systems were.
Doctors will also be monitoring the mental health of the boys as well, due to the stress they faced being trapped underground and not knowing whether they'd get out.
But in an initial assessment at least, 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.
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