Valley fever prevalence may be 3X higher than previously thought: CDC

Every year in the U.S., there may be more than 500,000 cases of fungal infections caused by Coccidioides — more than three times the amount of previous estimates, according to CDC data cited by CBS News in an Aug. 4 report. 

The 500,000 is a draft figure shared by the CDC during a presentation last fall to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Valley fever,or coccidioidomycosis, is thought to be endemic in the Southwestern U.S., with about 97 percent of cases confirmed in Arizona and California. 

More and more cases are popping up outside of these regions, however, with researchers anticipating warming temperatures could push the disease east by the end of the century, making it endemic in regions like the Great Plains.

CDC officials told CBS only a fraction of cases are reported, and even those numbers have been increasing. Early estimates indicate there were 20,197 cases through the end of 2021, the highest single-year record since the last peak in 2011. 

"When you compare the numbers now and in 2021 to 2014, they've increased pretty drastically since then. Within Arizona, it's basically doubled, and within California, more than tripled," Samantha Williams, PhD, an epidemiologist in the CDC's mycotic diseases branch, told the news outlet. 

The fungus that causes Valley fever lives in dry, hot soil and can be contracted when people breathe in microscopic fungal spores from the air. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and rash, and typically develop between one and three weeks after breathing in the fungal spores. Many people recover on their own, though some may require antifungal medication. 

"Recognizing it early to treat it early is really important," Dr. Williams said. 

Health agencies are ramping up efforts to encourage the development of a vaccine for the fungal infection. 

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