Climate Change and Valley Fever
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climate change and valley fever

One impact of climate change most people probably don’t know about is the dramatic rise of dust storms. I had no idea. In fact, there’s been a two hundred forty percent increase in the number of dust storms which means more people are now suffering from Valley Fever.

It’s also called coccidioidomycosis. More than ten thousand people are diagnosed each year, primarily in Arizona and California and two hundred of them will die from it. It’s actually caused by a fungus, Coccidioides, and grows in the top two to eight inches of soil in semi-arid regions.

But when disturbed by farming, dirt bikes or construction, the highly infectious spores can become airborne. On a windy day, the fungus can travel seventy five miles and infect people when they breathe it in. Increasing dust storms have raised the number of victims by ten percent. But the CDC estimates perhaps one hundred fifty thousand cases a year are misdiagnosed as the flu.

Many people infected with Coccidioides have no symptoms but others can have flu-like symptoms and a rash on the upper body or legs. A small percentage of infections progress beyond the lungs, into the blood stream and affect the central nervous system and can be fatal. The infection can be diagnosed with a blood or skin test.

And it’s treated with antifungal drugs. People with severe symptoms are hospitalized and may need treatment for three months to a year. Fortunately Valley Fever is not spread from person to person. And those who have had it are usually immune from future infections. Right now, what we can take away is the warning that climate change is altering the impact of infectious diseases on humans and it’s not good.

For more information…

Climate Change-Fueled Valley Fever is Hitting Farmworkers Hard
The potentially deadly disease is caused by a soil-borne fungus made worse by rising rates of dust storms. In California’s Central Valley, farmworkers are bearing the brunt of the problem...

CDC Information Page for Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)
Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides. The fungus is known to live in the soil in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and Central and South America. The fungus was also recently found in south-central Washington. People can get Valley fever by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick...

State of California Health and Human Services Agency Valley Fever and African Americans, Filipinos, and Hispanics Information Sheet
People of all races and ethnicities are at risk for Valley Fever in California. However, some racial or ethnic groups are at risk for severe Valley Fever. When Valley Fever is severe, patients may need to be hospitalized and in rare cases, the infection can spread beyond the lungs to other organs (this is called disseminated Valley Fever). African Americans and Hispanics in California have higher rates of hospitalization compared with whites, and African Americans and Filipinos appear to be at higher risk for disseminated disease...

Global Warming 101
Everything you wanted to know about our changing climate but were too afraid to ask...