The effects of Earth’s rising temperatures have historically been linked to numerous human health issues. Now, recent flu-like “Valley fever” outbreaks have connections to rising temperatures and changing weather in California and the Southwest United States.
“Valley fever” is caused by inhalation of a soil fungus called coccidioides, which is most common around sites with loose soil particles, such as archaeological digs and construction sites, Yale Climate Connections reported.
However, dust storms, which have become more common in the Southwest U.S., have increased the movement of soil particles and put more populations at risk. The cause?
“We are seeing more and more drought,” said Daniel Tong, associate professor at George Mason University, “so we are seeing more dust storms.”
Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data suggests that recorded instances of Valley fever have increased seven-fold in the past 20 years. In 2019, the agency recorded 20,000 cases of the illness.
Why is this significant?
Increasing instances of Valley fever pose risks to both human health and the economy. Individuals who develop Valley fever symptoms one to three weeks after the initial exposure experience coughing, headaches, rashes, and other flu-like symptoms. These symptoms can last a few weeks to a few months, with some instances lasting up to several years after exposure. The CDC estimates that 5-10% of individuals will develop severe or long-term lung complications.
Not only do these health impacts cause significant stress on the physical well-being of the individuals affected by the disease, but it also affects their pockets. In 2019, the total lifetime cost of Valley fever in the state of Arizona across over 10,000 cases was $736 million. This includes lost wages and direct healthcare costs.
Data from the CDC states that 200 people die each year from coccidioidomycosis-associated deaths. Populations with pre-existing health complications and pregnant individuals are at high risk of developing more severe complications.
What’s being done to stop it?
There is currently no vaccine for Valley fever, but scientists are working to develop one in the coming years.
In the meantime, individuals at higher risk for developing the illness are recommended to avoid dusty areas and wear proper protective equipment to avoid inhaling the spores. To prevent transmission, all populations should also stay inside during dust storms in the impacted region.
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