Medical professionals are warning the public about a dangerous fungal infection that is rapidly spreading across the country, particularly in the states of California and Arizona.
There has been an increase in reported cases of rare Valley fever, and climate change may be to blame, according to doctors.
Valley fever (also called coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”) is a disease caused by a fungus that grows in the soil and dirt in some areas of California and the southwestern United States, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
“People and animals can get sick when they breathe in dust that contains the Valley fever fungus. This fungus usually infects the lungs and can cause respiratory symptoms including cough, fever, chest pain, and tiredness,” the agency added.
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“This is a fungus,” said Perkins, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official. “Most causes of pneumonia are caused by bacteria. This is a fungus that lives in the soil and is breathed in dusty situations, whether it’s a dust storm or around construction or excavation.”
A total of 20,003 cases of Valley fever were reported in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People from Arizona and California accounted for the vast majority of these cases. Valley fever is more common in those over the age of 60.
According to doctors, the symptoms of Valley fever are often similar to those of COVID-19.
“Some [people] may have a fever, chills or fatigue, or just feel generally unwell,” Thompson of UC Davis Health said.
Symptoms of Valley fever include:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Rash on upper body or legs
Is a nationwide spread possible?
In 2019, a study by Morgan Gorris — which was published in GeoHealth, a journal focused on environmental and health sciences research — suggested that climate change could trigger an expansion of Valley fever into northwestern states, including Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
“At first, I was skeptical,” said Dr. Thompson of California. “But I’ve recently heard about new cases emerging in Nebraska and even Missouri, so I think it’s in the realm of possibility.”
Valley fever cases are expected to arrive in northern Utah and eastern Colorado by 2035, according to the study. Gorris, the study’s author, also predicts that the disease will become endemic in Nebraska, southeastern Montana, southern Idaho and South Dakota by 2065, and that it could arrive in northern Montana and North Dakota by 2095.
Purdie, for his part, believes that Valley fever could become more widespread amid changing climate patterns and population growth.
“Valley fever likes undisturbed soil — so as people continue to populate more arid, dry and less developed areas, there will likely be more interaction with it,” he said.
Doctors and patients await a vaccine
While there is not yet a vaccine for Valley fever, Dr. Thompson is optimistic about progress toward that goal. He pointed to three vaccines currently in development, including one that has been successfully tested with dogs.
Watch the video below:
Valley fever cases on the rise and may worsen due to climate change
Source: NBC News (YouTube) pic.twitter.com/D8kQGnUiUp
— Wittgenstein (@backtolife_2023) January 31, 2023