Fungal infection Valley fever could spread beyond endemic Southwest

Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, a fungal infection thought to be endemic in the Southwestern U.S., is spreading outside the region and could become endemic in many parts of the U.S. by 2095, NBC News reported Jan. 31.

"Climate projections for the western United States indicate that temperatures will increase and precipitation patterns will shift, which may alter disease dynamics," according to a 2019 study published in GeoHealth

Valley fever is likely to spread east, through the Great Plains, and north, to the Canadian border, before the end of the century. However, precipitation is expected to limit spread of the disease into states farther east and along the central and northern Pacific Coast.

Valley fever is caused by a fungus called Coccidioides, which lives in dry, hot soil. Associated with symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath and rash, Valley fever can be contracted when people breathe in microscopic fungal spores from the air. People who are diagnosed with Valley fever usually get better within weeks; however, sometimes antifungal medication is required. 

About 97 percent of U.S. cases are confirmed in Arizona and California, though research suggests this trend may change as global temperatures rise. 

"By 2100, in a high warming scenario, our model predicts that the area of climate-limited endemicity will more than double, the number of affected states will increase from 12 to 17, and the number of Valley fever cases will increase by 50 percent," researchers wrote in a November 2022 Clinical Infectious Diseases article.

"Clinicians should consider DM diagnoses based on compatible clinical syndromes with less emphasis placed on patients' geographic exposure," according to the Clinical Infectious Diseases article. "Increased clinical suspicion leading to a subsequent increase in DM diagnostic testing would likely result in fewer missed diagnoses, fewer diagnostic delays, and improved patient outcomes."

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