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Have you ever heard of “Valley Fever“? This fungal infection, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is causing alarm among health experts in the US due to its recent surge in cases. While the majority of cases are still reported in the Southwest, the disease is spreading and the climate crisis may be a contributing factor.
Source: NBC News/Youtube
Devin Buckley, a 24-year-old from California, was diagnosed with Valley Fever after initially starting to feel ill in February 2018. He was shocked to learn that such a serious illness could be relatively unknown, and even doctors initially mistook it for cancer.
The fungus that causes Valley Fever is endemic to the Southwest, with 97 percent of cases being reported in Arizona and California, according to the California Department of Public Health. The illness is caused by inhaling fragments of the fungus, which are usually undisturbed in the ground but can be disturbed by activities like construction, wind, or walking.
A study published in the journal GeoHealth estimated that the range of Valley Fever could reach the border with Canada by the end of the century due to the changing climate. The western half of the US is expected to become warmer and drier, creating ideal conditions for the fungus to thrive in new areas.
In 2019, around 20,000 cases were reported, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that this number is likely an undercount. Symptoms of Valley Fever include fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, and muscle aches, and can often be misdiagnosed.
The medical director of the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical in Bakersfield, California, Dr. Royce Johnson, emphasizes that if a patient with pneumonia lives in or has traveled to the Southwest, Valley Fever needs to be considered in the differential diagnosis. The CDC states that the infection can cause severe lung issues in 5-10 percent of cases.
For Devin Buckley, the diagnosis was life-altering. He has been on a ventilator three times and has had to take antifungal medications for months or even years, with side effects including hair loss, chapped lips, and dry skin. Despite the challenges, Devin is determined to raise awareness about the disease and its impact.
Efforts to develop a vaccine for Valley Fever have been ongoing since the 1960s, and a vaccine for dogs has already been developed with possible approval by the Department of Agriculture set for 2024.
It’s clear that Valley Fever is a serious and often-misunderstood illness that deserves more attention and resources. We can all play a role in spreading awareness and advocating for better resources for those affected by Valley Fever. Let’s work together to bring attention to this issue and push for solutions to prevent the further spread of the disease.
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