Cases of Valley Fever reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services reached an all-time high with 5,535 in 2006, a 57 percent increase from the previous year.
Health officials addressed the epidemic and its impact on people and pets during a news conference Tuesday in Phoenix.
Valley Fever is a pulmonary infection contracted by inhaling fungal spores found in desert soil. The risk is greater in summertime when people and their pets are outdoors more often.
"Most cases either have no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms," said Christy Bronston, director of nursing with the Mohave County Department of Public Health. "Symptoms can include fatigue, cough, fever, profuse sweating at night, loss of appetite, chest pain and muscle aches."
Bronston said she is not aware of any data to suggest people with asthma or other chronic health problems are more susceptible to contracting Valley Fever. Vulnerable pets include dogs, horses and other domesticated animals, she said.
Anyone with the aforementioned symptoms should consult a physician.
One woman who previously had Valley Fever told the Miner it was correctly diagnosed by a chest X-ray only after it had sufficiently progressed. An X-ray taken when she first had symptoms did not reveal it.
Bronston said there are a variety of tests available for a correct diagnosis.
Some patients require years of treatment or even life-long therapy to suppress the infection, a news release from the state Health Department stated.
"Valley Fever is something we monitor under a surveillance program. We watch for an increase in the number of cases and clusters of them," Bronston said.
"If we identify a cluster we do further investigation to find a cause."
There were 39 confirmed cases of Valley Fever in Mohave County during 2005, 49 in 2006 and 43 so far in 2007, she said. Bronston had no information on fever-related fatalities.
"I encourage people to stay away from dusty areas or activities with airborne dirt as far as prevention," she said. "There is no vaccine that cures Valley Fever."
Calls made Wednesday and Thursday to the public information office of the state Health Department were not returned.