Valley Fever is on the rise in the Western US. California and Arizona, specifically, have seen a sharp rise in instances of the illness, which can be fatal. The spread of the disease is being blamed on drought conditions, where dust spores are easily carried throughout the region.
Public health officials are warning residents about the disease as it is often misdiagnosed or overlooked in early stages, leading to more severe illness.
As reported by Fox News, Valley fever is traditionally present in the desert regions, but has become more prevalent in recent years. Beginning in 2010 health officials noted a marked increase in patients diagnosed with the disease.
Valley fever is contracted by breathing in spores that are carried by dust particles. Hot, and especially dry, air is more likely to contain and distribute the spores. Additionally, the fungal spores thrive in dry weather, increasing their numbers.
Officials warn that workers who are exposed to fields and construction sites are at a higher risk, as they are more likely exposed to the spores. Residents or visitors with weakened immune systems should be aware of the disease, and any possible symptoms.
In 2011 there were just over 20,000 reported cases of Valley Fever. It is estimated that over 150,000 cases are undiagnosed yearly.
As discussed by MayoClinic.com, the symptoms can include fever, coughing, pain in the chest, chills or night sweats, headache, rash, painful joints, and fatigue. Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis infection, can progress into pneumonia if not properly treated.
If Valley fever progresses to its most serious form, infecting the entire body, it may cause death. Doctors suggest visiting a doctor early if symptoms appear. Many cases of Valley fever will go away without treatment. However, if symptoms persist untreated, they may be fatal.
Public health officials in California and Arizona are working together to educate the public and to take preventative measures to decrease serious complications from the disease.