Valley Fever symptoms reported cases in Arizona continue to rise dramatically, up almost 365 percent over a 10-year period, to 2,695 in 2003 from 580 in 1993, according to the state Department of Health Services. Through July of 2004, 2,040 Valley Fever symptoms cases have been reported statewide.
More alarming, Valley Fever symptoms rates rose almost 226 percent in the same period, to 47.9 cases per 100,000 Arizona residents in 2003 from 14.7 cases per 100,000 in 1993.
Health officials say the increases may be due to Arizona's drought, construction boom and growing population of susceptible newcomers.
These theories are based in part on the fact that Coccidioides immitis, the fungus that causes valley fever, lies dormant in dry, alkaline soil, "blooms" underground when it rains and becomes airborne when the soil is disturbed by wind, farming, construction and other activities.
Inhaled, the fungal spores cause a lung infection known medically as coccidioidomycosis, or cocci (kok-see) for short. It strikes humans and other mammals. Short of avoiding dust and wearing a mask - and even those measures may be ineffective - there's little people can do to prevent Valley Fever symptoms.
Azcentral.com - Tenacious Valley Fever Runs Gamut
Monsoon storms always lured Danyelle outdoors, book and blanket in hand.
Who could resist that daydreamy summertime gift, the chance - rare for a teen living in Tempe - to watch dust storms or sheets of rain, read a paragraph or two, then watch again, while snuggled in a lawn chair on the patio, feet planted against a wall?
Not Danyelle. Not then. Today, the 22-year-old Arizona State University student dreads monsoon season.
She'll never know with certainty whether it was a monsoon dust storm that carried valley fever-causing fungal spores into her lungs and almost killed her. But four years after contracting the infectious disease, her pleasure in stormy days is gone.
Coccidioidomycosis - Valley Fever Occurrence
Provides a description, occurrence, treatment and preventive measures of Valley Fever symptoms.
Valley Fever: It's in the air
The Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the VA Hospital on Tucson's Southside is researching the fungus that is more widespread than people may think.
"This is the agent that's on the select agent list, yes," Dr. John Galgiani says as he describes Petri dishes filled with Valley Fever Spores inside the center's laboratory.
"Notice that we tape the plates. The orange tape is all the way around." Dr. Galgiani says that is done to ensure none of the spores get out.
The Centers for Disease Control has now put Valley Fever on its list of restricted agents. Dr. Galgiani says that's because Valley Fever poses a bioterrorist threat, perhaps even more dangerous than anthrax.