• Tech Tech

Scientists warn extreme weather is causing resurgence of previously rare disease: 'If you look at the numbers, it's astonishing'

"About 15 years ago in our lab, we only saw maybe one or two cases a month. Now, it's two or three cases a week."

"About 15 years ago in our lab, we only saw maybe one or two cases a month. Now, it's two or three cases a week."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists are warning that the cycle of extreme drought and wetness being experienced in California is creating the perfect conditions for a previously rare disease.   

What's happening?

Cases of Valley fever in the Golden State reached record numbers in 2023 after nine consecutive atmospheric rivers caused historic flooding, as detailed by Grist.

In January, the California Department of Public Health cautioned healthcare providers to be on the lookout for more instances of this fungus-caused disease, as the state is off to another soggy start to the year.  

"Hydro-climate whiplash is increasingly wide swings between extremely wet and extremely dry conditions," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, told Grist, adding that Valley fever "is going to become an increasingly big story." 

Most people who breathe in the spores that cause Valley fever are asymptomatic, but symptoms can include cough, tiredness, and chest pain, as the disease usually infects the lungs. Around 20% of known cases reach a stage known as "disseminated Valley fever," per Grist, which can lead to skin lesions and ulcers, swollen joints, meningitis, and death. 

Why is this concerning?

The bacteria that causes Valley fever is being found in new areas. In California, more cases are being reported in the northern Central Valley and southern coastal regions, according to the CDPH. Meanwhile, Grist noted that Arizona saw a 600% rise in diagnoses even though two-thirds of cases already occur in the Grand Canyon State. 

"If you look at the numbers, it's astonishing," Shangxin Yang, a clinical microbiologist at UCLA, told the news outlet. "About 15 years ago in our lab, we only saw maybe one or two cases a month. Now, it's two or three cases a week."

Valley fever is just one of the growing concerns linked to the overheating of our planet, which has intensified extreme weather events, including the torrential rains and long droughts that have been creating the perfect conditions for the fungi to thrive. 

Pests like mosquitoes — which transmit deadly diseases, including malaria, Zika, and dengue, if they are infected — have increased their range. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animals that carry ticks are also spreading to new areas, while toxins from algae blooms are another growing issue as the planet warms. 

What can be done about Valley fever?

The CDPH has plenty of tips to reduce the risk of contracting Valley fever, including avoiding dusty areas where the spores could be circulating, wearing an N95 mask, or closing windows during dust storms

To make a long-term impact, there are money-saving actions that reduce pollution affecting global temperatures. Walking or biking when possible and unplugging energy vampires are simple everyday choices that can add up over time for a healthier planet. 

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider