Valley Fever cases increase in southern Utah

Apr 16, 2024, 11:00 AM

Valley Fever in Washington County...

A housing development near Ivins, Utah. (Photo by Carmen Troesser)

(Photo by Carmen Troesser)

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah — Valley Fever cases are on the rise in southern Utah. The fungal disease spores live in soil in hot, arid climates.

When soil is stirred up or people have direct contact with it, they can inhale the spores. Outdoor workers are most at risk for contracting Valley Fever.

“Agricultural workers, construction workers, firefighters. People whose work puts them in direct contact with soil and or dust,”  said Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Utah, Katharine Walter.

However, even going for a walk on a dusty, breezy day could expose people to the spores. Washington County is a hot spot for new construction which means soil is being disturbed daily.

“The kind of rapid, unchecked development that is happening in the St. George area is putting people at this interface with previously undisturbed ecosystems at a faster rate than has ever occurred before,” said Walter.

For those who are immune compromised, it can be very serious. It’s concerning because Valley Fever can easily cause Pneumonia. 

“No vaccine currently exists for Valley Fever, so the most important thing is to know what the symptoms are. If you develop symptoms and they don’t dissipate after a week, seek care and ask about Valley Fever.” said Walter.

Valley Fever symptoms

Symptoms include fatigue, fever, and rash. An infection can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are often mistaken for something else.  Additionally, the disease isn’t on a lot of Utahns’ or Utah medical workers’ radars. Unfortunately, that means people aren’t getting the care they need right away. 

Valley Fever is more prominent in Arizona and California. However, Utah has a higher mortality rate of the disease.

“People here in Utah have delayed diagnosis. So that means they are put on anti-fungal drugs later and therefore might have more severe disease,” said Walter.

Wearing masks while working in the soil can help prevent exposure to the spores. Walter wants to raise awareness of the presence of Valley Fever so people can be diagnosed before their cases escalate.

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Valley Fever cases increase in southern Utah