Valley Fever Case Rates Still Increasing As Are Dust Storms

Published: Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - 11:46am
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Amid a recent spate of dust storms, the Arizona Department of Health Services has released its annual bulletin on the state's dreaded dust-borne fungal infection, Valley fever.

Arizona has seen more than 6,400 cases of coccidioidomycosis so far this year, compared to more than 11,500 in all of 2020. That year marked an 11% rise over 2019, which recorded the highest rates in seven years.

The disease, which is also known as "San Joaquin Valley fever" or "desert rheumatism," can cause cough, fatigue, fever, headache, shortness of breath, night sweats, aches and pains, rash — or no symptoms at all.

The two coccidioides fungi species that cause Valley fever occur in areas of the American Southwest, Mexico and South America, as well as parts of Washington state. Their spores can become airborne when activities like construction, farming or dust storms stir up the soil.

In Arizona, most cases occur in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

Recent upticks might stem in part from increased treatment for respiratory illnesses during the pandemic, and therefore more Valley fever testing.

Dust storms in the Southwest have more than doubled since the 1990s. Experts project climate change will only intensify that trend.

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