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Valley Fever: Working Toward a Solution

From Soil to Lungs

Valley fever cases have increased significantly since 1998. Valley fever is caused by a fungus found in soil. This fungus is common in the southwestern United States, mostly California and Arizona, as well as northern Mexico and parts of Central and South America.

Activities like construction and farming and natural events such as earthquakes and dust storms can disrupt the soil and put the fungal spores in the air. People can then get valley fever by inhaling the spores into their lungs, where the infection begins.

A Costly Problem

Photo: Emerging Infectious Diseases journalA new publication released in the October 2013 volume of Emerging Infectious Diseases describes the impact of valley fever in California over the past decade. From 2000 through 2011:

  • There were 25,217 hospitalizations for people with valley fever in California.
  • The average cost of hospitalizations in California due to valley fever was $186 million each year (more than $2 billion over the decade).
  • More than half of those who were hospitalized for valley fever needed to stay in the hospital for more than a week.
  • The average cost of a hospital stay for valley fever was more than $55,000 per patient.

A Silent Epidemic Becomes a Call to Action

Valley fever has a long history of misdiagnosis, and lacked national attention.That changed in September 2012, when journalism fellows and media outlets in the Reporting on Health Collaborative decided to examine valley fever and develop an action plan and timeline for changing the course of this disease.

Since then, the amount of attention aimed at valley fever has increased exponentially. Well- known media outlets like CNN, Fox News, PBS, and The New York Times published several articles discussing rises in the percentage of people who get valley fever, difficulties in diagnosing the disease, and how severe valley fever can be. Even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published information about valley fever.

Increased awareness of the problem has led to action. One year after the Reporting on Health Collaborative began, Bakersfield, California is hosting a Valley Fever Symposium on September 23 and 24. Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plan to attend.

The Future of Valley Fever

With valley fever on the radar, plans are under way at CDC to continue working to prevent the disease and make sure people who are infected get early diagnosis and treatment. Efforts include:

  • Increasing the ability to track illnesses throughout the United States and other countries where valley fever is common.
  • Conducting more research into ways to diagnose and treat valley fever as early as possible so that people have less severe illness and faster recovery.
  • Making doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers, and the public more aware of valley fever, again with the goal of early diagnosis and treatment.
  • Supporting ongoing research into developing a vaccine to protect people from valley fever.

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