The danger of radioactive contamination in karst caves is associated primarily with natural, radioactive inert gas, radon. This colorless, odorless gas is 7.5 times heavier than air and naturally accumulates in niches, side pockets and cave depressions. Radon is one of the decay products of radium, as well as uranium 238, widely distributed in small concentrations in soils and rocks of the earth’s crust.
Radiation and bacteriological danger in underground caves and labyrinths, dangerous infections.
When it enters an open atmosphere, radon quickly dissipates, but in closed underground cavities it accumulates in high concentrations. Radon has three isotopes. One of which with a half-life of almost three days. Being an active isotope, it decomposes into daughter products: short-lived isotopes of polonium, bismuth and lead and, unlike radon gas, forms solid particles that attach to air aerosols.
, cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, Ebola, Lassa, Marburg and others. But all these terrible diseases are not directly connected with the underground cavities. Most often, all kinds of underground cavities are used as natural or (much more often) as artificial (i.e., created by people) burial grounds of infected animals and even people.
The creation of such burial grounds is associated with numerous epidemics of smallpox, plague, anthrax and cholera in the XVII-XIX centuries. As a rule, such burials were walled up and equipped with warning signs. But over time, the signs deteriorated, and the walled-up entrances opened in search of treasures, just out of curiosity. Or, the masonry that closed the entrance itself collapsed over time. To find out that there was an infectious burial ground in this place is possible only by indirect signs. The multiple remains of animals and people, the likeness of a fence, a lot of ash and ash from burning infected bodies and materials, etc..
In addition, underground cavities are often a haven for various rodents, which are potential carriers of many of these infectious diseases. Encountering such infectious areas for a person who accidentally or specially fell into such underground cavities with burials can be deadly. This is due to the fact that the causative agents of all these diseases, being in an environment with their increased concentration, can persist for a very long time without losing their damaging properties. For example, spores of anthrax bacilli persist in the soil up to almost 100 years, plague bacillus up to 5 years, and when dried and in a cold place indefinitely.
Infectious diseases associated with the life of a large number of people are of great danger. Including artificial underground excavations of the catacombs and quarries directly under or near large cities. For example, such as Adzhimushkaysky, Starokarantinsky near Kerch, Odessa, directly under the city and in its vicinity, Sablinsky near St. Petersburg, Nikitsky and Domodedovo quarries in the suburbs.
Underground excavations in the Saratov region, many quarries and catacombs in Western Europe in Italy, Spain, France, etc., as well as ancient underground passageways (between ancient fortifications and monasteries), which are not only the burial places of corpses of infected or simply fallen animals, but also in places of fecal waste. The group of infectious diseases characteristic of the places of fecal waste discharge includes diseases such as dysentery, salmonellosis, gastroenteritis and some others. The causative agents of these diseases are brought here not only with feces, but also with food waste and dirty water..
These underground man-made structures represent the so-called ecological dead end. Where the causative agent of the disease can accumulate and persist for a fairly long time, until the flow of vital products stops. Rodents, mainly rats, ground squirrels, groundhogs, gerbils, as well as fleas parasitizing on them, are carried mainly mechanically by pathogens of infections. But in direct contact with humans, this pathogen is transmitted through the bite of an animal or insect..
In addition, infection is also possible through direct contact with infected material. In case of contact with skin and clothing, inhalation of contaminated air in a non-ventilated underground room. This is the so-called airborne source of infection in the human lungs, in which the primary form of pulmonary plague occurs. And then, when swallowing sputum, an intestinal form of the disease develops. In natural karst and other caves, often severe infectious diseases are associated with lairs of burrows of wild animals. These animals are carriers and carriers of the causative agent of diseases such as cryptosporidiosis, leishmaniasis, tularemia, plague, rickettsial typhus and some others.
In the litter and walls of the lairs in huge quantities there are so-called exoparasites (lice, fleas, ticks). Bloodsucking flying insects also accumulate here. They are also carriers of pathogens from animals to humans. Almost all types of blood-sucking insects that use the animal’s lair as a temporary shelter are not very active underground, except for mosquitoes. Porcupines live in the inlet parts and small dead ends of warm Central Asian caves, which are carriers of the relic tick, which is found in huge quantities in cave floor dust, from where they fall on the body of porcupines.
An argas tick, one of the types of ticks, spends its entire life cycle in underground shelters and lairs of various animals. And for several years it can do without food, waiting for prey and remaining the guardian of infection, i.e., it is the causative agent of diseases. In caves, diseases such as fungal infections caused by cave fungi can also occur. Dermatomycoses and deep mycoses develop both in animals and in humans and pose a great danger to cave visitors.
Histoplasmosis (Pharaoh’s disease) is especially dangerous. This is a fungal disease or deep mycosis, the causative agent of which is most often found in loose deposits of caves and guano bats, but can also be in the air, penetrating the respiratory tract and leading to death. This disease, in all likelihood, killed the first researchers of the Egyptian pyramids, hence the name Pharaoh’s disease. There is a skin and pulmonary form of this disease. With the cutaneous form, the fungus causes deep ulcerative processes of the skin and mucous membranes. The pulmonary form occurs when the spore of the fungus is inhaled with dust.
Caves are especially dangerous in warm and humid climates; with a large number of various rodents and traces of their vital activity (fecal masses). Equally dangerous are natural and artificial mines and wells, which are a natural trap for animals whose decaying corpses can lead to human infections. Thus, the presence in the underground cavities of various origins requires great care, and without special need for that, staying and even more so overnight in them are not desirable. People who accidentally or unknowingly find themselves in the area of underground burial grounds are often not even mentally prepared for the possibility of meeting especially dangerous infections, therefore.
If suspicious remains of animals and people, traces of burials, a large amount of ash are found, it is necessary to immediately leave the suspicious underground cavity.
If for some reason you need to be in such an underground cavity for some time or move along it, you should close your nose and mouth with a cloth bandage and in no case touch objects on the cavity floor or even walls.
Do not arrange temporary and permanent camps in the underground cavities, do not go to rest on the floor of the underground cavity.
Based on materials from the book Encyclopedia of Survival.
Chernysh I. V.