The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called Valley Fever a “silent epidemic,” and the disease is affecting thousands of Californians each year, particularly in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $3.8 million, five-year grant to Berkeley Public Health to study the emergence of Valley Fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis — or “cocci” for short.
California is currently experiencing the highest-ever recorded number of cases of cocci, yet little is known about what underlies recent increases, or how future changes in the state might impact the spread of the disease. People can contract cocci by breathing in dust that contains spores of the Coccidioides fungus. The fungus grows in soil, and spreads via tiny spores that are inhaled with dust that is stirred up by strong winds, digging or other disturbances to soil. Anyone who lives, works, or visits areas where the Coccidioides fungus grows can breathe in fungal spores churned up in dust and carried in the wind, and inhaling just a few spores is enough to cause an infection.
“There are key gaps in our understanding of the environmental transmission of this pathogen, limiting our ability to prevent infection and protect those at risk,” said Dr. Justin Remais, head of Environmental Health Sciences at University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health and principal investigator of the research project. “We need to understand which dust exposures pose the highest risk of infection, how the pathogen is adapting to new environments, and how climate change will influence the pathogen’s future spread.”Friday Letter Submission, Publish on January 17