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Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
10:54 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

County awaits funding to fight valley fever

KINGMAN – Officials with the Mohave County Department of Public Health are waiting to see if they will get any of the $50,000 in health crisis funds released by Gov. Janet Napolitano to battle an outbreak of valley fever in Arizona.

“We haven’t received a lot of information about it yet,” said Christy Bronston, director of nursing. “We know the money is to go toward education and recognition of the disease, but we haven’t heard if the money is targeted to county health departments or at the state level.”

A fungus that lives in soil and attacks the lungs when inhaled is the cause of valley fever. Some people may only experience flu-like symptoms, while in others the fungus can trigger extended pneumonia and severe fatigue.

Disability or death can result if the disease spreads beyond the lungs to other organs.

State health officials are bracing for an all-time high in reported cases this year, perhaps as many as 4,000 according to an Associated Press story. Most cases of valley fever in recent years were reported in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

The Arizona Department of Health Services issues a “case rate” figure per 100,000 population as a way to standardize numbers for comparison between larger and smaller counties.

Bronston said the valley fever case rate for Mohave was 20.7 in 2005, while the statewide case rate figure last year was 58.2.

Laura Erhart, epidemiologist with the ADHS, said that number equated to 39 confirmed cases of valley fever in Mohave County.

“Mohave had a case rate of 23.9 and 43 confirmed cases of valley fever in 2004,” Erhart said.

“In 2003, the rate was 22.8, which worked out to 39 confirmed cases that year.”

Valley fever resulted in 24 deaths in 2003, 28 fatalities in 2004 and 30 deaths in 2005 statewide, Erhart said. She did not have a county-by-county breakdown of fatalities.

“People should avoid dusty areas as much as possible,” Bronston said.

“Workers in the agriculture and construction industries as well as archeologists are at greater risk to contract valley fever than the average person.” The AP story reported an extra $75,000 has been earmarked to combat tick-borne Rocky Mountain spotted fever that is mainly concentrated on Indian reservations in northern Arizona.

That disease is seldom found in Mohave County, Bronston said.

Prior to 2004, just eight cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever were identified in the state, the AP story stated. There were 15 confirmed cases in 2004 and another 13 in 2005.

Craig Levy, manager of the Vector Borne Disease Program with the ADHS, said Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is most common in eastern Arizona in the White Mountains region.

The last case of anyone from Mohave County having the disease was more than 10 years ago and contracted it while traveling out of state, he said. “At this point, there is no indication of high risk anywhere else, but we are trying to get a better picture of where it may be,” Levy said. “We’re doing expanded surveillance in eastern and northern Arizona to find out if it may be occurring elsewhere.

“What we’ve found to date is that it escalates in areas with a sizable stray dog and brown dog tick problem.”

Brown dog ticks are single-host parasites that go through their entire life cycle feeding on a dog. Where stray dog numbers become excessive the ticks may attach themselves to people.

After tick attachment to a human, incubation is a few days to two weeks. The victim will begin experiencing fever of 101 degrees or higher, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, chills, bloodshot eyes and a rash.