- Histoplasmosis - also known as Cave Disease or Spelunker’s Lung, is caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum and primarily affects the lungs. It is fatal if untreated, and hey, it grows in soil contaminated with bat droppings.
- Rabies – Bats make up a quarter of the rabid animals reported to the CDC. Enough said.
- Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever – Found in equatorial African caves, this cousin of Ebola incubates in fruit bats that live in caves and mines.
- Leptospirosis - Also known as Rat Catcher’s Yellow, this is caused by infection with bacteria of the genus Leptospira which grows in water contaminated with the urine of bats and rats. Do not drink cave water.
- Cave Fever – Also known as relapsing fever, this disease comes from getting bitten by infected ticks.
I think the real lesson here is that bats are filled with disease.
For a casual tourist, like the 500,000 annual visitors to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, walking through a cave is essentially as safe as walking down the street. It is the sport cavers, those who crawl through muck and mud into little-explored crevices, that must protect themselves from things living on bats, rodents, ticks and other bugs, Igreja said.
Igreja surveys the classic and emerging cave-borne diseases in the June 10 Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. We’ve collected a gallery of the offending cave fauna, along with tips about how to keep sickness away next time you’re slithering among the stalagmites. Note: None of these diseases are exclusive to caves. Strange bugs can strike almost anywhere.