Although caving in Jamaica is a thrilling experience there is one big
histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that converts to a yeast infection
within one's body. The disease is a non-transmittable acute often
self-limiting infection of the lungs resulting from unusually heavy
inhalation of the airborne spores of the fungus Histoplasma
- O.K. histoplasmosis, but what has this to do with
The growing conditions for the
fungus are warmth (more than 20 - 24 °C), moisture and soils with
lots of humus and animal excrement (especially the excrement of bats
and blackbirds). That's why the thick layers of guano in the Jamaican
bat caves are an ideal breeding ground for this fungus. Other high-risk
zones are old chicken houses, barns, belfries, pigeon lofts,...
anywhere that there is soil with an accumulation of bat and/or bird
- Do you find it only in Jamaica?
NO! It is important to
know that all tropical bat caves over the world are potential breeding
grounds for histo. So you can get in Jamaica, but also e.g. Cuba,
Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central and South America, Canada and also in the
United States (Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, Virginia, Maryland,...).
People who grew up in these regions may already have developed some
resistance against the disease.
- Big Warning about caving
in Africa !!!!
Histoplasmosis capsulatum has an African brother: Histoplasmosis
duboissi . This disease appears in the west and in the middle of
Africa. It hits particularly the lymph nodes, subcutaneous connective
tissue and can expand in other organs like the liver and spleen. Cold
abscesses, bone and joint aberrations arise. The result is most of the
time fatal. Take care while caving in Africa!
- And the old continent?
Read what A.G. Fincham, et al, wrote about us Europeans in their
article "Histoplasmin sensitivity among cavers in Jamaica" :
Cavers of European origin are particularly useful in
studies of Histoplasma distribution in caves since the organism is
almost unknown in Northern Europe and Asia (Edwards and Billing, 1971).
Frankland (1974), in a discussion of the study of the incidence of
histoplasmosis infections amongst cavers, said that "The Northern
European speleologist would seem to be a particularly suitable
experimental animal for such studies coming from a non-infected area
and being guaranteed to probe deeply into any underground focus of
infection wherever he goes." :)
- What are the symptoms of histo?
The early symptoms are flu-like: fever, headache, cough, hot-cold
feelings, cold shivers, loss of appetite, shortness of breath,
hoarseness, joint and muscle pains. But in many patients there is a
deep feeling of discomfort just under the breastbone.
People who develop symptoms usually develop them within a week to 10
days of contracting the infection; then the symptoms frequently vanish
within four or five days. Normally your immune system will keep the
infection under control so that it does not severely damage your lungs
or other organs in your body.
But it is very important to understand that histo is NOT curable. This means that it will stay in your body for the
rest of your life. You can have a perfect normal life once you have
histo, but there are things you need to know so that histo will not
reactivate and do significant damage to your lungs and possibly move
into other parts of your body.
First and foremost: Do NOT take steroids unless you are in a
life-threatening situation. Steroids artificially depress one's immune
system. If that happens, your histo can reactivate, even after a period
of 50 years!
- Are you immediately sick?
No, the incubation period is usually 3 to 18 days, with an average of
- Is it contagious?
No, the illness is not contagious.
- When you have histo what is the treatment?
Most people's immune systems will control histoplasmosis without any
treatment. Others, however, who develop more severe forms of histo will
probably need antifungal treatment and possibly other kinds of
treatment as well.
- Are there complications?
There is a possibility depending on the number of spores that are
inhaled and your general health condition. People with weakened immune
systems are at the greatest risk for developing severe and disseminated
histoplasmosis. Included in this high-risk group are persons with AIDS,
lupus and/or other immune disorders or people receiving
- Mild infection: Light flu-like symptoms. Lasts one to
three days. If you are living in a region where the organism is endemic
and/or you already have histo, chances are great you will belong to
- Acute lung infection: The "cavers disease". This is
self-limiting and affects only the lungs. Even without treatment you
will be better in two weeks up to three months. Although as a caver you
may think that this is the only form of histo you can contract, this is
clearly not true. You can develop all the mentioned forms of histo
along with serious complications.
- Chronic histoplasmosis: Looks like tuberculosis on a
chest x-ray. CT scans are more distinctive in diagnosing histo.
Unfortunately you will also need to tell the medic what histo is as
most health care professionals have never treated anyone with this
disease. Otherwise you could end up with a useless treatment against
- Disseminated infection: a rare form of the disease,
the fungus has spread throughout the body. Serious symptoms: loss of
weight, extreme tiredness, anemia...The patient often dies within four
to ten months without treatment.
- Damned, how can we prevent to get it?
This is a difficult one.
- The perfect solution is not entering caves... O.K. I
- You can try to wear respirators. Yeah, try it in a hot
tropical cave, chances are great you will suffocate.
- Next try, don't make dust. The spores are living in
it. But now I have heard that you can get histo in wet caves too.
- Try medication. Cavers have tried experimental
prophylactic doses of Sporanox (Itraconazole) or Nizoral (Ketoconazol).
Take care: these medication can have severe side effects. Before
experimenting please take contact with your doctor for his advise.
Currently there is no way to prevent histo. Think twice before entering
tropical bat caves.
This page was made together with Katharyn Waldron.
P.S. You want to read more about histo? Go to the LINKS page.
You want more info?
mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org