As residents of the Sonoran desert, we may face unique challenges associated with climate and weather. For example, windy conditions that coincide with the monsoons can aerosolize dust from sites where digging and construction are occurring. This disturbed soil can harbor the fungus Coccidiodes which can cause the disease Valley fever. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, in Arizona, over 100,000 individuals become infected with Valley fever each year, and 40% of these individuals experience symptoms of the disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Valley fever is caused by fungal spores (Coccidiodes) present in the soil throughout much of the Southwestern United States. Exposure to dust is a health hazard regardless of Valley fever and can exacerbate asthma and chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD). At-risk groups include outdoor laborers such as farmworkers, construction workers, and landscapers, or any other individuals working in outdoor occupations involving close contact with dirt and dust. More information from the CDC regarding valley fever can be accessed here.
To avoid infection of Valley fever, professionals recommend the following:
- Avoid areas with significant amounts of dust (excavation sites, construction sites) if possible
- Wear a protective face covering such as an N-95 mask when exposed to areas with a lot of dust or working in construction sites
- Damp sheets can be hung over doors and windows to help block more dust from entering the house
- When cleaning after a dust storm use a vacuum with a filter instead of a broom which can put dust back in the air
Animals can also get Valley Fever. Around 6-10% of dogs living in Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa counties in Arizona will become sick with Valley Fever each year. In order to prevent the spread of Valley Fever in animals, avoid activities that generate dust, for example reduce digging behavior by dogs or prevent sniffing in rodent holes. Treating the soil is currently not practical as the fungus lives in spotty areas and can live up to 12 inches deep in the ground. Yard ground cover that reduces dust, however, is helpful: grass and deep gravel or other dust-controlling cover. It is important to note that dogs cannot transmit Valley Fever to humans. Additional information from the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence can be accessed here.
Some of the signs and symptoms of valley fever include cough, shortness of breath, fever, and fatigue, which can appear one to three weeks after exposure to fungal spores. Individuals who are more susceptible to the disease include people with a weakened immune system, those who are pregnant and individuals with diabetes. If you suspect you may have contracted valley fever, consult a healthcare professional for appropriate testing and treatment. The most common test for valley fever is a blood test which is sent to a laboratory where Coccidiodes antibodies can be detected. Once diagnosed, many individuals make a full recovery without treatment, however, a physician may also prescribe an antifungal such as fluconazole to reduce the severity of symptoms. There are no over-the-counter medications for valley fever.
The following are additional resources regarding Valley fever: