Valley fever blowin’ on a hotter wind

– I pity the American Southwest where I grew up and where my older son and his family still remain.   It is squarely in the cross hairs of Global Climate Change and one only has to look at Australia to see what the future holds.   10+ million people living in the L.A. basin on what is, at bottom, simply coastal scrub desert that would barely be able to support a few tens of thousands without the massive influx of food and water delivered there daily from elsewhere.  This story about Valley Fever, is just one of many gathering force now for the Southwest.   Can you say, “Water”?

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PHOENIX – It’s high noon, and the 112-degree summer heat – up from a decade ago – stalks Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. By late afternoon, dark clouds threaten, and monsoon winds beat the earth into a mass of swirling sand. Thick walls of surface soil blind drivers on the Interstate.

Some health experts believe new weather conditions – hotter temperatures and more intense dust storms fueled by global warming – are creating a perfect storm for the transmission of coccidioidomycosis, also known as valley fever, a fungal disease endemic to the southwestern United States.

How do cocci spores infect the body? Propelled by winds, thousands of soil particles and cocci spherules are inhaled. People – particularly those older or immune-compromised – may experience flu-like symptoms that can turn into pneumonia. If the infection disseminates, the pathogens can target any organ – mostly the nervous system, skin, bones and joints – and become life threatening.

Each year, according to the American Academy of Microbiology, about 200,000 Americans contract valley fever, and 200 of them die. But some experts believe the disease is vastly underreported. Between 1991 and 1993, healthcare costs for valley fever exceeded $66 million, according to the Pan American Center for Human Ecology and Health.

The group Physicians for Social Responsibility says global warming will multiply the incidence due to increased airborne dust and sandstorms. Higher wind speeds and drought upped Arizona’s yearly count from 33 cases of valley fever per 100,000 in 1998 to 43 per 100,000 in 2001, said Dale Griffin of the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The number of cases in Arizona more than quadrupled from 1997 to 2006, according to a Mayo Clinic study. During that same period, incidence rates in California jumped from 2.5 to 8.4 cases per 100,000 people.

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