July 4, 2019 4:58 am

Newfoundland travellers contract mysterious disease traced to cave trip in Cuba

People tour a cave in Matanzas, Cuba in this undated photo.

People tour a cave in Matanzas, Cuba in this undated photo.

The Canadian Press/HO, Terry Murphy
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A woman is warning travellers to thoroughly research any adventurous excursions abroad after she and several other Newfoundlanders became ill from a mysterious disease traced back to a Cuban cave.

Terri Murphy of Paradise, N.L., travelled to Cuba with her husband on April 27, but her fever-like symptoms didn’t appear until May 21, weeks after she returned home.


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X-rays showed nodules in her lungs and tests showed low blood counts. Her condition baffled local doctors, who initially thought her lung infection could be some form of pneumonia.

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The clue to her illness came from a chance meeting she’d made on the trip with a family of Newfoundlanders who had a mutual friend.

Murphy and her husband had travelled with the group on a tour that included cave diving in the Matanzas province of Cuba. Back in Canada, a number of their new friends had also fallen ill.

Murphy and the travellers informed their doctors that they knew each other and were experiencing the same symptoms, and their illness was identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or “cave disease.”

Murphy said pinpointing the source of her condition offered some relief from what she called a terrible, alarming health issue that she feared might have been cancerous.

“You didn’t want to be too excited about the fact that somebody else was sick, but at least cancer was off the table,” Murphy said by phone Wednesday.

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Eastern Health, Murphy’s local health authority, has issued an advisory for travellers heading to the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia to avoid contracting the disease.

Histoplasmosis is a treatable disease, contracted by breathing in airborne spores where bird or bat droppings are disturbed in damp soil.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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