Stephanie Whiteside and Jeremy Tanner
5 hours ago
A medical illustration shows the coccidioides fungus which causes valley fever. (Centres for Disaster Control and Prevention)
(NewsNation) – Health officials are concerned that climate change could lead to an increase in Valley fever, a fungal infection commonly found in the Southwest.
There’s no need to worry about “The Last of Us” coming soon, but the threat of fungal infections is real.
Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is caused by the fungus coccidioides. The spores of the fungus can be found on the ground or uprooted by things like construction work, human activity, or wind.
“It’s a disease that we’ve been tracking for a very, very long time and in fact the fungus that causes it was part of the offensive biological warfare program agents that were considered by several countries including the United States,” said the Dr. Aileen Marty, contagious. disease specialist and professor at Florida International University, told WGN Radio.
Coccidioides thrives in hot, dry environments, which is why it is mostly found in desert regions in the southwest. But changes in temperature and shifting drought mean the fungus is moving beyond this area. Some scientists predict it could be found as far north as the Canadian border by the end of the century.
People can develop valley fever after inhaling coccidioides spores from dirt. It is considered endemic to the Southwest and many people experience mild symptoms or none at all.
But some people suffer from a more serious disease. The fungus can cause serious respiratory problems and some patients develop a chronic form of pneumonia.
And for some, the fungus goes beyond the lungs, spreading to the spinal cord and brain. Once this happens, there is a 40% mortality rate. These cases are rare, but researchers are still trying to determine why some people develop such a damaging form of the disease while others do not.
Marty said the fungus, which is resistant to both temperature changes and salt, has even been found in marine mammals. In climates such as the hot, dry San Joaquin Valley in California, the fungus can spread through the air.
“It will be on the bones of an animal that died from it and when the wind blows, then that fungus will be available for someone else to breathe or other animals to breathe,” Marty said. “More recently we found that it can infect bats and that bats can act as a reservoir. We believe this is one of the main ways it has spread recently.
Marty said it was reportable in a number of states, but not all. The highest concentrations are found in dry, desert environments where it can spread so easily.
“Another big issue with Valley fever is that climate change, we really think climate change is causing this particular fungus to spread,” Marty said.
Valley fever symptoms include fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle or joint pain, and a rash on your upper body or legs. Symptoms usually begin within three weeks of exposure, and those who live in or have traveled to the Southwest should seek medical attention if they experience these symptoms.