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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Powerful storm uproots risk

The colossal storm that recently swept across Maricopa County has passed, and though the dust has settled, the problems might just be starting.

One such problem could be an increase in valley fever, a fungal infection that is caused when spores are released from the ground and inhaled, as they were during the dust storm. Symptoms typically include chest pain (similar to pneumonia), cough, fatigue and, naturally, fever. Valley fever cannot be prevented while living in areas where the fungus is endemic, or local, said John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence.

“”Don’t live in Arizona. Don’t breathe,”” he said. “”Those are two good ways (of prevention).””

Galgiani said the illness would start showing in citizens who breathed it in very soon. It typically takes a person one to three weeks to develop symptoms after exposure.  

“”It’s only now that some people will be feeling ill,”” he said. “”They’ll be seeing doctors this week and next week.””

Only about a third of infected people actually develop a case that requires medical attention. It may take weeks or months, but most people do eventually get past it, Galgiani said. He estimated there would be an increase of 3,600 infections, to around 5,000 in total, for Maricopa County in July and August due to the storm.

He formulated the number by examining another large dust storm that hit Kern County, Calif., and the increase in valley fever cases they saw because of it. Both Maricopa and Kern counties are filled with the fungus that causes valley fever. Galgiani said his number was susceptible to a significant margin of error.

“”It (the estimate) gives you a projection as to what to expect. It allows you to at least anticipate what you might see,”” he said.

Galgiani said he didn’t think the storm would affect Tucson, but that the disease has and will always be around the UA and students should be aware of its presence. He said that according to Campus Health Service, the UA sees roughly 50 cases a year and that student athletes are especially at risk. He also said someone who lives in Tucson has around a 1 percent chance of being infected.

Animals catch the infection the same way as humans but the symptoms and the degree of severity varies between creatures, said Lisa Shubitz, a veterinarian and associate research professor of veterinary science and microbiology.

“”It depends on the animal. In general, it’s primarily a respiratory infection first, as it is in humans,”” she said. “”They will develop coughing, fever and lack of appetite.””

Generally, no records for valley fever-infected animals are kept and it’s impossible to gauge how much of an effect the storm will have on them, Shubitz said.

For dogs, reducing their amount of time outdoors, walking them on sidewalks and avoiding dust as much as possible will reduce their risk of contracting valley fever, Shubitz said.

Valley fever is a non-communicable disease and cannot be spread from one person to another or from an animal to a human. The only way to get infected is to come in direct contact with the disease-causing spores, Galgiani said.

He said if a person suspects they’ve been infected, they should speak with their doctor about it. In most cases, patients are just treated with anti-fungal drugs. If his projection is accurate, Galgiani said there could be an increase between $20 million and $30 million in hospitalization costs. “”That’s just the tip of the iceberg,”” he said. “”There’s a lot of outpatient medical care, days away from work and other economic impacts.””  


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