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Valley Fever On The Rise In Dry Parts Of America

May 06, 2013 05:08 PM EDT

Cases of valley fever are on the rise in dry parts of the country, according to California and federal public health officials.

The disease is caused by the ingestion of a fungi commonly found in dirt where it can easily be breathed into the lungs.

According to Chico ER, half the time infections result in no symptoms. What’s more, in the cases that symptoms are present, they are often misdiagnosed as the flu as they include coughing, a fever, headaches and body aches.

Though relatively rare, the infection can cause lung failure or even spread to other parts of the body, leading to blindness, skin abscesses or death.

Mild symptoms can be alleviated with painkillers and fever reducers; however, more severe cases are treated with prescribed antifungal medications.

To prevent contracting the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises than individuals engaged in construction work, yard work and other activities in a dusty outdoor environment wear a N95 mask. The Mayo Clinic adds to the list staying inside during dust storms and wetting soil before digging in order to prevent the spread of dust.

According to the CDC, the number of valley fever cases rose by more than 850 percent nationwide between 1998 and 2011, with more than 20,400 cases reported in California and Arizona alone in the latter year.

In California, the sharpest rise has taken place in Kern County, followed by Kings and Fresno. In all, of the 18,776 cases reported from 2001 to 2008, 265 resulted in death, according to the state health department.

Arizona, however, has seen an even steeper rise, with numbers climbing from 1,400 in 1998 to 16,400 in 2011.

Furthermore, the CDC estimates as many as 150,000 cases of valley fever infections go undiagnosed every year not only because it can be difficult to detect, but because there is limited awareness of the disease, according to experts.

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