Valley fever aka coccidiomycosis has risen nearly 75 percent in the past five years. It is a potentially fatal infectious respiratory disease caused due to the inhalation of the fungus coccidioides which is found in the soils of warm and dry regions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that most of the cases were from Arizona and California though the fungus has been found in central Washington.

The fungus causes respiratory illnesses, but there is also a possibility for disseminated illness. Once the fungus reaches a person’s lungs, it transforms from strand-like into spherules, tiny balls that grow and spread inside the pulmonary tissues. About 40 percent of individuals who inhale the spores fall sick. Early symptoms include those of the flu such as cough, fever, chills and night sweats and therefore, valley fever usually goes misdiagnosed and untreated. However, In advanced cases, coccidiodes can be disseminated from the lungs to other parts of the body and give rise to skin lesions which can lead to limb loss.

Though there isn’t any clarity regarding the reason for the rise in valley fever, it can be attributed to several environmental factors like the weather, changes in land use, etc.  The investigators from the CDC and the Arizona Department of Health Services in Phoenix and California Department of Public Health opine that the data indicates that the disease persists as a significant national public health issue, with multiple cases across the country.

About 95,371 cases have been reported from 26 states and the District of Columbia in the period 2011-2017.  The researchers at the University of California believe, Irvine in a high-warming scenario, the list of affected states is likely to increase from 12 to 17 and the number of individual valley fever cases is likely to grow by 50 percent by the year 2100.

Therefore, the authors urge all the healthcare providers to consider the infection in patients who live, work or have traveled to the affected regions. “Ongoing public health efforts aimed at increasing awareness among the public and among health care providers are essential for helping patients receive a diagnosis and appropriate treatment more quickly,” said the researchers.

It is not yet clear whether antifungal medications could help in reducing the duration and severity of the symptoms. Further research is required to spot the ideal treatment for patients who suffer from this disease. The researchers opine that additional research on understanding and reducing human exposure, individual susceptibility and vaccines could give rise to better prevention strategies.

operation-540598_1920 Operation respiratory mask Valley fever is on the rise and spreading Photo: Stefan_Schranz/ Pixabay