Valley fever, a fungal infection primarily found in the southwestern United States, is now likely spreading eastward, across the Great Plains and even north to the Canadian border due to climate change, according to a study in GeoHealth.
“As temperatures rise and the western half of the U.S. remains fairly dry, our desert soil will expand somewhat and these drier conditions will allow coccidioides to live in new places,” said Morgan Gorris, who GeoHealth studying while at the University of California, Irvine, told Today.com.
Since the infection continues to be diagnosed outside of the Southwest, here’s what you need to know about valley fever.
What is valley fever?
Valley fever, common in the Southwest because of the region’s hot, dry soil, is an infection caused by inhaling microscopic spores of the fungus coccidioides. About 20,000 valley fever cases were reported in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 97% of cases reported in Arizona and California. Rates tend to be highest in people age 60 and older.
While most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, those who do typically feel better on their own within weeks or months; however, some require antifungal medication.
What Are the Symptoms of Valley Fever?
Valley fever symptoms can appear one to three weeks after inhaling the mold spores and usually last several weeks to several months. About 5% to 10% of people who get valley fever develop serious or long-term lung problems. Symptoms include:
- A fever
- shortness of breath
- Night sweat
- Muscle pain or joint pain
- Rash on upper body or legs
How is valley fever diagnosed?
Valley fever is usually diagnosed through a blood test; however, health care providers may also perform imaging tests, such as chest X-rays or CT scans, to check for valley fever pneumonia.
Who is most likely to get valley fever?
People who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, such as people with weakened immune systems, pregnant people, people with diabetes, and black or Filipino people, are advised not to inhale large amounts of dust if they live in or travel to places where valley fever is common.
Is valley fever contagious?
No. “The fungus that causes valley fever, coccidioides, cannot spread from the lungs between humans or between humans and animals,” the CDC said. “However, in extremely rare cases, a wound infection with coccidioides can spread valley fever to someone else, or the infection can be spread through an organ transplant with an infected organ.”
How can I prevent valley fever?
While it’s nearly impossible to avoid breathing in the fungus coccidioides in places where it’s common, the CDC recommends spending as much time as possible in dusty places, especially for people who are at higher risk. You can also:
- Wear a face mask, such as an N95 respirator
- Stay indoors during dust storms
- Avoid outdoor activities, such as yard work and gardening, that require close contact with dirt or dust
- Use air filtration systems indoors
- Clean skin lesions with soap and water
- Take preventative antifungal medications as recommended by your doctor
Is there a cure or vaccine for valley fever?
Not yet. Scientists have been working on a vaccine to prevent valley fever since the 1960s, according to the CDC. However, researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson have created a two-dose vaccine that has proven effective in dogs.
“I’m really, really hopeful,” Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Today. “In my opinion, right now we have a candidate who deserves to be evaluated and I think he will probably be effective, and we will use him.”
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