Jeff Masters Weather Blog

Climate change could enable valley fever to spread across more of Western U.S. » Yale Climate Connections

Fever. Body aches. Chills. It could be COVID-19. It could be the flu. But when a patient in the Southwestern U.S. develops these symptoms, doctors and nurses also consider the possibility of valley fever.

It’s a disease caused by a fungus found in soil.

“And any type of soil disturbance, like digging in the dirt or high winds, can cause those tiny spores to become wafted in the air,” says Morgan Gorris, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “And that’s when humans can breathe them in and become sick.”

Gorris says symptoms are often mild, but the disease can become severe. And it contributes to about 200 deaths in the U.S. each year.

The fungus that causes valley fever thrives in hot, dry conditions, so for now, its range is largely limited to the Southwest.

But Gorris’s research shows that if carbon pollution continues to rise, temperatures could warm up enough for the disease to spread across much of the Western U.S. by the end of the century, including communities that have never experienced the disease before.

So she wants healthcare practitioners to understand that cases could emerge and be prepared to diagnose and treat them.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media

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