Valley fever cases ride high for second year

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Wednesday, March 8, 2023 - 2:43pm
Updated: Thursday, March 9, 2023 - 7:50am

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For the two most recent years on record, the case counts of Valley fever hit rates not seen since 2012.

Data from the latest report released by the Arizona Department of Health Services show both 2020 and 2021 had around 11,500 confirmed cases, compared to almost 13,000 in 2012 and a record high of nearly 16,500 in 2011.

The last year with cases number in the neighborhood of 2021 was 2010, at around 11,900, but the per capita rate was higher back then.  

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.

symptoms of valley fever chart
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ

Data reveal only 34 fewer Valley fever cases and 109 fewer hospitalizations in 2021 than in the year before, with the most beds filled per capita in La Paz County.

People aged 75-84 had the highest case rates of the flu-like disease, which is caused by breathing spores from a soil fungus.

Most reports came in during late winter to early spring. So far this year there have been nearly 1,500 confirmed and probable cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates Valley fever actually occurs six to 14 times more often than reported, likely due to lack of testing caused by medical training oversights or insurance concerns.

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