TUCSON — There have been more than 5,000 cases of Valley fever in Arizona so far this year, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. That number is up from what we saw this time in the past couple of years.
“The very highest was in 2011 when there were 16,000 cases reported to the state,” said Dr. John Galgiani, the Director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona. “Since then, it’s gone down but now it’s going back up. And much of this year-to-year variation occurs because of climate issues, especially the rainfall patterns.”
The fungal infection, which is found mostly in Arizona, is caused by inhaling spores that live in the ground.
Symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, and a rash. Experts say, if you have pneumonia, you’ll want to get tested for the disease.
“That’s a tip-off because 1 out 3 people who get a diagnosis of pneumonia in Tucson actually have it caused by a fungus, not by a bacteria or virus,” said Dr. Galgiani.
Researchers at the UA are developing a vaccine to prevent valley fever- first in dogs, and then hopefully for humans.
“If we show it works in dogs, then the question is ‘why aren’t we doing it for people, too’, said Dr. Galgiani.
The FORWARD Act is recent bipartisan legislation aimed at bringing a national spotlight to valley fever.
“It’s very important to us but, in terms of the whole United States, it’s considered an ‘orphan disease’. So it sort of doesn’t get respect, and we’d like to change that,” said Dr. Galgiani. “It does mean that if you really want drugs developed to help with this disease, you’re probably going to need a little help from the government to make that happen.”