02 October 2013

The desert strikes back (coccidiomycosis)

Coccidiomycosis ("Valley Fever") used to be a relatively exotic disease, familiar only to a few pulmonary disease specialists.  But now as more Americans move into desert ecosystems to live, more are becoming infected with this fungus, as reported in Vice:
The debilitating affliction has reached epidemic proportions in the Southwest, with infection rates rising at least tenfold in the last 15 years... 

Doctors in the West got their first inkling of the disease in the 1930s and 1940s, when thousands of new Californians settled in the Central Valley, driven west to escape drought-wrecked prairielands that had devolved into the infamous Dust Bowl. It’s also when World War II delivered soldiers, prisoners of war and interned Japanese Americans to some of the fungus's most fertile breeding grounds. Valley fever took hold among the unfortunate new arrivals.

But then the disease lolled and was largely ignored by the medical establishment, which came to regard the occasional infection as an exotic disease. Now it’s “reemerging,” to borrow from bureaucratic parlance, and its range appears to be growing. More than 22,000 cases were confirmed in the US in 2011—up from 1,200 in 1995. Between 1990 and 2008, 3,089 deaths linked to the disease were documented...

Research published last month in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases concluded that valley fever hospitalization rates more than doubled in California between 2000 and 2011, with medical costs exceeding $2 billion during that time. The CDC suspects that as many as 150,000 people who are infected annually don’t seek treatment or aren’t properly diagnosed...

Construction work, archeology, and farming are particularly dangerous trades in cocci-infected regions, which stretch from Mexico up through California; from Texas to Utah. Patches of Argentina are also affected. Anything that kicks up dust increases the hazards. Taylor said Californian dust storms in the 1970s blew spores north to infect Oregonians and west to San Francisco...

The growing rate of diagnoses does reflect a growing awareness among doctors of the disease and its symptoms. People are also increasingly moving out of cities and into dusty exurbs, migrating into regions that are rich with cocci. “There’s an influx of naïve hosts,” Taylor said. “They’re now putting homes outside the cities in more rural areas, where they’re disturbing the desert.”


  1. Here in Tucson, even our dogs get Valley Fever. Can be quite bad if not treated.

  2. I'm also a Tucson resident and one of my friends, in her 60s, had Valley Fever. For weeks she thought she was becoming "elderly"- tired, achy, slow. The cough she chalked up to allergies and kept on with her daily routine, feeling sicker by the day. She ended up in the hospital- recovery to full strength and energy took months and she is an active, outdoors person. I often wonder how many of us have had a mild case of Valley Fever and did not know it. But then there are those who become deathly ill.

  3. We had a major outbreak in Calif. in the late '70s or early '80s it hits people of Fillipino ancestry especially hard.


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