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Fri, Dec. 06

Valley Fever cases increasing in Mohave County

The life cycle of Coccidioides spp. (Valley Fever Center image)

The life cycle of Coccidioides spp. (Valley Fever Center image)

The Daily Miner received a letter from a reader concerned with recent local cases of pneumonia that look a lot like Valley Fever. The reader suggested collecting soil sample for testing to determine if the fungal spores are in fact found in the ground.

“Whenever we deal with ‘a community acquired pneumonia’, there’s a chance it’s Valley Fever,” the epidemiologist at the Mohave County Department of Public Health’s Anna Scherzer said. “Or when we see a patient is not responding to antibiotics. That can be a sign that the pneumonia was caused not by bacteria but by fungus.”

Valley Fever is an infection in the lungs caused by the fungus coccidioides spp., which grows in soils in areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures and moderate winter temperatures – that means throughout Arizona. In fact, according to the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, two-thirds of all U.S. Valley Fever infections are contracted in the state.

Unfortunately, testing the soil will not help because there’s not much that we can do about the fungus, Scherzer said. Valley Fever is acquired by inhaling one or more airborne spores of the fungus coccidioides spp. The spores are carried in dust particles from the soil by the wind when the desert soil is disturbed.

Scherzer estimates the number of cases of Valley Fever in Mohave County at about 50 to 100 per year.

“We had 44 cases in 2016,” she said. “Sixty-eight cases in 2017 and 87 in 2018. As you can see, the numbers seem to be growing.”

Anyone who lives, visits, or travels through areas where the fungus grows in the soil may acquire Valley Fever.

Sixty percent of people have no symptoms or only very mild flu-like symptoms and do not see a doctor. When symptoms are present, the most common are fatigue, cough, fever, profuse sweating at night, loss of appetite, chest pain, generalized muscle and joint aches particularly of the ankles and knees.

“We don’t know if there are actually more cases each year, or if doctors got better at testing and reporting,” Scherzer said, pointing out that Valley Fever is being considered notoriously underreported. “But we had 16 reported cases within last 3 months.”

There is no cure for Valley Fever. Researchers in the U.S. are working on the development of a prophylactic vaccine. There is a drug that shows promise of a cure in the future, but it remains in the early phases of testing.

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