Valley Fever on the Rise in the Southwest

Megan O'Leary, Staff Writer

With the recent heat waves crashing into the Southwest – California, Arizona, Mexico, Central and South America – a sneaky yet serious disease called Valley Fever has increased over the past couple of years and it is at it all time high.

California Federal Health Officials say that Valley Fever is potentially lethal because it is often misdiagnosed for another disease. They say that “the fever can be contracted by simply breathing in fungus-laced spores from dust disturbed by wind as well as human or animal activity. The fungus is sensitive to environmental changes, experts say, and a hotter, drier climate has increased dust carrying the spores.”

“Valley Fever is a very common problem here, and it devastates people’s lives,” said Dr. Royce Johnson, professor of medicine at UCLA and chief of infectious diseases at Kern Medical Center. “But many patients don’t know about it, and some physicians are only vaguely aware of it because half of our physicians come from out of state,” he told FOX News.
Health official are trying not to scare the people of southern California, but they do want to let them know that people who work in dusty fields or construction sites are most at risk, as are certain ethnic groups and those with weak immune systems.
But they are a bit afraid because valley fever is difficult to detect and there’s little awareness of the disease. The fever often causes mild to severe flu like symptoms. But in about half the infections, the fungus can show no symptoms. The CDC and California Health Officials have reported that in the most severe cases the infection can spread from the lungs to the brain, bones, skin, and even eyes. This could lead to blindness, skin abscesses, lung failure, even death.

This past week, California was forced to evacuate more then 3,000 inmates from two San Joaquin Valley Prisons because of an outbreak that killed about a dozen of inmates. A few days later, officials went to San Luis Obispo hospital to investigate another outbreak that sickened 28 workers from a local solar power plant in February.

The CDC reported that they haven’t seen this many cases since 1998, when there was only about 1,400 reported case. In 2011, California and Arizona  alone reported more than 20,000 cases. It was more than a 850 percent increase, and it is still growing.