With their rescue at a triumphant end, their road to recovery now begins.
“It is very emotional, certainly, to see and hear that these boys are all coming out when we just didn’t know the certainty and possibility,” he said. “What’s so amazing beyond that is that this was a really difficult rescue plan to execute. … It’s just very remarkable when people are risking their own lives to save others.”
The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their coach went missing while exploring a cave network in northern Thailand on June 23. Heavy seasonal rains flooded the cave entrance, trapping them inside. Their sudden disappearance sparked a desperate search and rescue effort.
Jedsada Chokedamrongsook, the permanent secretary of the Thai Health Ministry, said the boys in the first group, rescued on Sunday, were ages 14 to 16. Their body temperatures were very low when they emerged from the cave, and two might have lung inflammation.
Their families have been able to see them through a window in the isolation unit, Chokedamrongsook said, and they were able to talk on the phone. Family members will be allowed to enter the unit if tests show that the boys are free of infection.
The boys in the second group, rescued Monday, were 12 to 14. One had a very slow heartbeat but responded well to treatment, Chokedamrongsook said.
Regarding both groups, medical officials said Tuesday that the boys are healthy, fever-free, mentally fit and “seem to be in high spirits.”
The boys are all likely to stay in the hospital for seven days due to their weakened immune systems.
They remain in an isolation ward to protect their bodies from any risk of infection, Gupta 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,” Gupta said.
With a weakened immune system, “a pathogen might be more dangerous for them,” he said. “That’s why they don’t let the parents touch them, because anything is a potential threat.”
“It’s a real disease, and people who are spelunkers are at risk of that,” he said.
The diseases that lurk in caves
“Generally, in a healthy child or adult the immune system will deal with the disease and they will only show flu-like symptoms if any symptoms at all. The boys in Thailand should have healthy immune systems but may perhaps be compromised by malnourishment, and their quarantine may be to deal with any potential contamination of hair, clothing or other belongings,” Carter said.
“If histoplasmosis does progress — which can sometimes happen even in otherwise healthy people and it’s not known why this happens in some cases and not in others — the initial flu-like symptoms can turn into a pneumonia-like condition,” she said.
“In a very small number of cases, there is dissemination to other organs and this is a very grave condition. There is a small number of drugs that can be used in treatment but at the latter stages these aren’t terribly effective and can have serious side-effects,” she said.
“Yet, it is also very important to consider that a very small portion of the caves on planet earth have been discovered and the microbial ecology of the discovered caves are heavily understudied,” he said, adding that the risk of encountering other undiscovered pathogens remains very likely.
All in all, Zowawi said, “I really hope that the cave kids story in Thailand will stimulate the public and funding agents to support scientists to carry out more research to study innovative ways to tackle infectious diseases, particularly those occurring from exposure to the environment.”
CNN’s Euan McKirdy, Kocha Olarn and Steve George contributed to this report.
News credit : Cnn