Scientists fear Valley fever may be on the rise, on the move in US

A medical illustration shows the coccidioides fungus that causes Valley Fever. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

(NewsNation) — Health officials are concerned that climate change is leading to an increase of Valley fever, a fungal infection commonly found in the Southwest.

There’s no need to worry about “The Last of Us” coming to life any time soon, but the threat from fungal infections is a real one.

Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is caused by the fungus coccidioides. Spores from the fungus can be found on the ground or uprooted by things like construction work, human activity, or wind.

Coccidioides thrives in warm, dry environments, which is why it’s predominantly found in the desert regions of the Southwest. But changing temperatures and shifting drought mean the fungus is moving beyond that area. Some scientists are predicting that it could be found as far north as the Canadian border by the end of the century.

People can develop Valley fever after inhaling coccidioides spores from the dirt. It’s considered endemic in the Southwest and many people experience mild symptoms or none at all.

But some people experience a more severe illness. The fungus can cause severe respiratory problems and some patients acquire a chronic form of pneumonia.

And for some, the fungus goes beyond the lungs, spreading to the spinal cord and brain. Once that happens, there is a 40 percent fatality rate. Those cases are rare, but researchers are still attempting to determine why some people develop such a damaging form of the disease when others don’t.

Symptoms of Valley fever include fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headaches, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, and a rash on the upper body or legs. Symptoms typically begin within three weeks of being exposed, and those who live in or have traveled to the Southwest should see a doctor if they are experiencing those symptoms.


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