Valley Fever Surges Due to Climate Change : A study by California’s OEHHA warns that Valley fever, caused by coccidioides fungus, is worsening and may spread to other U.S. states. Due to climate change, the sickness rate has increased from 4.3 to 20.6 per 100,000 people. While most cases are mild, serious issues can arise, particularly in specific racial and ethnic groups, and effective antifungals are lacking.
Valley fever used to occur in the lower San Joaquin Valley in California and parts of Arizona. Now, it’s spreading further north. Jennifer Head, a UC Berkeley researcher, noted a significant increase in cases in formerly peripheral areas of California over the past 20 years. Climate change leads to increased dust and heat, enabling fungal spores to thrive.
The California Department of Public Health reports that 47.4% of Valley fever cases occur in Hispanic and Latino individuals despite comprising only 37.3% of California’s population. People with Black or Filipino roots, older adults, and weaker immune systems are at higher risk of getting sick.
Valley fever begins when one inhales fungal spores from the soil. Symptoms appear 7-21 days later. The CDC says 5-10% of cases can cause long-term lung problems and infections affecting bones, joints, or the central nervous system. However, most cases only cause mild breathing issues. Farmers, field workers, and construction workers are most at risk.
Drought and wind pattern changes, worsened by climate change, aid germ spread. Shaun Yang, a UCLA Health microbiologist, said coccidioides germs thrive in rapid weather changes. When dry, spores go deeper into the dirt. When it rains, they revive.
Valley fever may spread more in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Yang claims doctors outside California may need to be made aware of how to detect the disease. The rise of Valley fever shows that climate-related diseases are increasing in the U.S.
Possible vaccines are being explored, but successful antifungal treatments are more crucial. “At this point, there’s little you can do to stop climate change,” Yang said, emphasizing the magnitude of the problem.
Valley fever’s rise highlights climate change’s growing threat to public health. We need treatments ASAP, especially as the disease spreads beyond its borders.