'Cave disease' one of many unusual illnesses caught by travelling Canadians

Tourists are seen inside a cave during an excursion in Cuba on September 16, 2015. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A Newfoundland woman is warning others to be cautious when booking excursions on vacation, as they can expose you to unexpected health risks.

Terri Murphy recently had her fears quelled after learning that a mysterious illness she’d contracted wasn’t cancerous.

According to reports, Murphy from Paradise, N.L started feeling flu-like symptoms a month after returning from a trip to Cuba.

Tests and x-rays revealed she had nodules on her lungs and an overall low blood count. While doctors initially thought it was pneumonia, they weren’t able to place her condition. Murphy then learned of other travellers from Newfoundland she had encountered while cave diving on the trip had also fallen ill with similar symptoms. Doctors were then able to diagnose the illness as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or “cave disease.”

The illness is an infection by a fungus found in the droppings of birds or bats in humid areas. It’s contracted by inhaling airborne spores and can be treated by anti-fungal medications.

Murphy is hardly the first Canadian to catch an unexpected illness while abroad.

Superbug after surgery

Two patients at a hospital in New Westminster, B.C. were confirmed to be carriers of a drug-resistant superbug in February 2019, which they picked up while having surgery abroad. The two patients were colonized with the multi-drug resistant yeast Candida auris, but weren’t infected. The bug causes infections in the bloodstream, ears and lesions, and is challenging to treat. It was first confirmed in B.C. in July 2017, when it was discovered in a patient who had surgery in India.

Tourists riding in a vintage car pass in front of Canada's Embassy in Havana, Cuba, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Mysterious widespread sickness in Cuba

The Canadian government cuts its diplomatic staff in Havana, Cuba late last year after 14 employees experience a mysterious illness. Symptoms of the unidentifiable ailment include dizziness, headaches and problems concentrating. The sickness doesn’t discriminate between nationalities, affecting several Canadian and American diplomats stationed in the northern Caribbean country. Officials investigated the mysterious illness, but a cause was never established.

Parasites from walking barefoot in the Dominican

After a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2018, Windsor, Ont. residents Katie Stephens and Ed Zytner warn others about walking barefoot on sandy beaches abroad. The pair came home with larva migrans, also known as hookworms, after staying in a resort in Punta Cana. In a Facebook post, Zytner detailed his experience of going to a local hospital with itchy, swollen and blistered feet, which baffled doctors. After a few visits, he was able to get a diagnosis from a doctor who had seen the condition 10 years earlier in a patient who’d visited Thailand. The condition was treated with medicine that targets parasites, along with antibiotics.

For advice on how to best stay healthy while travelling, visit the Canadian government’s travel health and safety website, and speak with your doctor or visit a travel clinic for region-specific recommendations.