Some public health experts are saying that cases of valley fever have reached epidemic levels in certain parts of California, KQED's "State of Health" reports.
About Valley Fever
Researchers estimate that more than 150,000 people nationwide contract valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, annually.
The cocci fungus is commonly found in soil in much of the Southwestern U.S., and is especially common in California's Central Valley.
People can contract valley fever by breathing in cocci fungal spores.
Cases of Valley Fever Increasing
At a public health meeting in June, health officials from various California counties reported an increase in valley fever cases.
For example, the number of cases in Kern County more than tripled from 2009 to 2010, when 2,051 cases were recorded. In 2011, the number of cases increased to 2,734.
At the meeting, Gregg Pullen -- an infection control manager for Children's Hospital Central California in Madera -- said, "Only [a] few diseases have increased like this in my career, " adding, "I can't remember ever seeing cocci like we have in the past two years."
John Galgiani -- director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Arizona -- said, "For the areas affected, the impact of this disease is every bit as important as polio before the vaccine or chicken pox before the vaccine," adding, "The numbers are going up, and no one's talking about it. Those communities hurting the most should be pushing the hardest for action to be taken."
Challenges To Curbing Valley Fever Cases
Challenges such as widespread misdiagnosis and a lack of research funding make it difficult for health officials to curb infections of valley fever, "State of Health" reports.
Scientists are unsure of how exactly valley fever spreads and how to prevent it.
According to "State of Health," funding for a potential vaccine has decreased significantly as more federal funding goes to higher profile diseases, such as the West Nile virus.
According to NIH data and academic studies, valley fever harms more U.S. residents and is more costly than West Nile. However, NIH has provided a total of $585 million to 1,287 research projects involving West Nile since 2000. By comparison, the agency has provided $25 million over the past 12 years to projects involving valley fever, or about 4% of the amount given to study West Nile.
George Rutherford, a valley fever researcher at UC-San Francisco, said, "Valley fever is not occurring in D.C., it's not occurring in Atlanta, and it's not occurring in Bethesda, Maryland. It's invisible to the most important policymakers when it comes to health funding." He added, "And that won't change unless the need for a vaccine is elevated in some way" (Schmitt et al., "State of Health," KQED, 9/10).