California’s Central Valley, the southern part of New Mexico, and southwest Texas all have been hit heavily by Valley Fever in the past year. The disease is caused by Coccidioides fungus – or “cocci” – found in the soil of warm, dry regions with low annual rainfall, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention.
In that respect, the respiratory disease may be affected and spread by climate change in regions receiving less precipitation than before.
Digging, agricultural production and high winds pick up the fungal spores from the soil and carry them to where humans can inhale them and become ill. Valley Fever cannot be transmitted person-to-person.
Valley Fever rates have increased tenfold from 1998 to 2011 in the southwest United States, Sekai Chideya of the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch told a group of reporters in Atlanta from the Association of Health Care Journalists recently. Cases are likely much more numerous than known, because not all states require the disease to be publicly reported.
From 2000 to 2011, California has seen more than 25,000 Valley Fever related hospitalizations. In addition to respiratory distress, patients can experience a red skin rash that can worsen to lesions.