Science 3 min read

Valley Fever Range to Double in Size due to Climate Change

Scientists say climate change will likely accelerate the expansion of valley fever to include much of the western U.S. by the end of the 21st century.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Also called coccidioidomycosis, Valley fever is an infectious disease caused by a fungus called Coccidioides. It lives in the soil across the southwestern United States and parts of Central and South America.

Most cases of Valley fever, around 10,000 cases each year, are mostly from Arizona and California. People would get sick by breathing in the microscopic spores of the fungus, called arthroconidia, from the air.

While some can fight the infection on their own, others need antifungal treatment. Certain people at higher risk of acquiring severe Valley fever are recommended to reduce exposure to large amounts of dust.

Usually, Valley fever is endemic to the south’s hot and dry areas, but a new study projects this fungal infection would spread farther north.

Climate Change and Valley Fever’s Range

As Earth’s climate is changing, so are natural systems that are subject to climate, or pretty much everything, including vectors of infectious diseases.

In the case of Valley fever, it seems like the Coccidioides fungi are expanding their range, heading north across the western U.S., what with the rising temperatures and diminishing rainfall due to climate change.

A study by an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) predicts Valley fever’s range to double in size by the year 2100, with the number of affected states jumping to 17 up from 12.

They project Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming to be the new hotbeds of Valley fevers endemic pockets. In Colorado, Idaho, and Oklahoma, the disease is expected to become more widespread.

“The range of Valley fever is going to increase substantially,” said lead author Morgan Gorris.

“We made projections out to the end of the 21st century, and our model predicts that Valley fever will travel farther north throughout the western United States, especially in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Great Plains, and by that time, much of the western U.S. will be considered endemic.”

The team used Valley fever’s endemicity map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was made based on a skin-test study conducted back in the 1940s. Using these 80-year-old data as a starting point, researchers then collected health department data on Valley fever cases reported in many states in the American West.

Developed based on temperature and precipitation, the researchers say their model “provides similar but not exactly the same projections of where the CDC says Valley fever is. In fact, we think it may guide efforts to build a better contemporary map of where the disease poses a threat to public health.”

The study is published in the American Geophysical Union journal GeoHealth.

Read More: Wildfires To Produce More Tarballs Due To Climate Change

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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