10 things to know about Valley fever, a fungal infection rising in the southwest US

Erica Carbajal - Print  | 

In recent years, cases of Valley fever have been on the rise in the southwestern region of the U.S., Grist reports. 

It's estimated to kill about 200 people in the country each year. 

Nine more things to know about the disease: 

1. Valley fever is caused by a strain of fungus called Coccidioides, or Cocci for short. Symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath, rash on the upper body or legs, among others that may linger for weeks to months in some cases. 

2. The fungus lives in soil and is endemic in certain regions of the world where weather conditions are hot and dry. 

3. Valley fever can't be spread from person to person. People can contract the infection by breathing in microscopic fungal spores from the air. 

4. About 60 percent of Valley fever cases produce no symptoms or mild symptoms that are often confused with the common cold, while 30 percent of people infected develop a moderate illness that requires medical attention. The remaining 10 percent get severe infections where the fungus spreads to other parts of the body from the lungs. 

5. The CDC estimates about 150,000 Valley fever cases are undiagnosed every year in the U.S. CDC data also shows cases in the U.S. rose 32 percent from 2000 to 2018, Grist reports. In California, cases rose 800 percent from 2000 to 2018, according to a CDC study from December 2020. 

6. Arizona currently has the highest rates of Valley fever in the country. 

7. Health professionals aren't sure why Cocci makes some people sicker than others, but people with immunocompromising conditions, African Americans and Filipinos are especially at risk. 

8. Antifungal medications such as fluconazole are used to treat the disease and no vaccine currently exists.

9. Researchers aren't certain why cases have been on the rise, though widely suspect climate change plays a role. 

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