TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s a common disease carried in the dirt and dust through the Southwest.
In fact, you may catch it and never even know it.
Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is an infection of the lungs caused by a fungus that grows in the soil in Arizona, the southern and central portions of California and portions of Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 6,414 cases of Valley Fever were reported in the state as of August 27, 2019.
In 2018, the number of cases reported through August was 5,260. The total for the year, according to AZDHS, was 7,478.
“This year we have higher number of cases reported already to the Department of Health, almost maybe a 30 percent increase," said Dr. Fariba Donovan, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine.
From her office at the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence, Dr. Donovan explained there are several things that could play a role in the increase of reported cases.
“People who work in the very large construction areas or maybe the dry season, lesser amount of rain," said Dr. Donovan. "Digging the ground to plant the beautiful plants here, sometimes puts you at risk.”
About 60 percent of people may never show symptoms or know they have it, said Dr. Donovan. According to the AZDHS, the 40 percent of people who are infected will develop symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Night sweats
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
Some symptoms can last for weeks or even months. Most people with symptoms will get better without treatment. However, some people may develop severe forms of the disease.
Amado Guzman said his concern over catching the disease isn’t very high, but he is cautious with his dog, Batman, depending on the weather in Southern Arizona.
“We haven’t taken her out a couple of times and we haven’t gone out when it was really windy, just thinking about that as a consideration," said Guzman.
Less than a year ago, the University of Arizona and Banner Health teamed up to create a new set of guidelines to help doctors look for symptoms of Valley Fever. The VFCE’s plan includes one-on-one training for doctors at all Banner Health clinics across Arizona to get rid of a possible delay in diagnosis.
Dr. Donovan said that program could also play a role in the increase of reported cases.
“By increasing the awareness of, for the disease and educating the outpatient centers and physicians, we’re hoping that that’s also one of the factors that increasing the number of cases that are tested and thereby reported," said Dr. Donovan.
Experts hope to see the full benefits of the training in the next two to three years.
According to the AZDHS, preventing Valley Fever is difficult since anyone who breathes in air in areas where the fungus lives, can get it, however, avoiding blowing dust and staying inside during a dust storm is recommended.
The best way to protect yourself is learning the signs and symptoms of the disease and if you have them, asking your doctor to test you for it.