Valley Fever is a reemerging infectious disease that calls home in the southwest United States (California, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico), Mexico, Central America, and South America. 40% of the infected population either does not show symptoms or they receive mild, flu-like, symptoms that resolve without medication. However, for those that develop a severe infection, such as pulmonary disease and community-acquired pneumonia, hospitalization, over a week, and lifetime medication may be required.
Calling home in arid, desert areas, Valley Fever spores are found in lower elevations, 4 inches or more under sandy soil. The most common opportunity to become infected with Valley Fever is when the soil is disrupted by construction, entertainment activities, or environmental factors like earthquakes, landslides, and dust storms. The only way to catch Valley Fever is to breathe in the spores.
The increase in Valley Fever cases in several California counties has been attributed to large amounts of dust due to several years of drought followed by rainy seasons. During droughts, the soil becomes loose and the top layer is more likely to be picked up due to wind, thus exposing the Valley Fever fungi living below the surface. During periods of heavy rain, landslides are common, causing disruption of the soil.
Communities living in the desert, such as Borrego Springs, are hoping for an ENSO event called El Nino to occur this year. El Nino is known to bring rain to the region. However, Southern California has been in a drought for over 5 years and with this predicted climate event to occur this year, could more cases of Valley Fever develop? In hoping for rain to solve our water crisis will we actually put a larger burden on our health care system?
The future is unknown, but we can prepare ourselves. Even if rain does come and helps with Southern California’s water crisis, we all need to do our part and continue conserving and prepare for the next drought. If rain does come, then we need to stay inside or wear masks during dust storms and be more conscious of our exposure to dust.
Post by Melissa Matlock, Water UCI Graduate Team Member