Valley Fever reports increase in Southwestern states

Reports of Valley Fever in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and California have increased from 2,265 in 1998 to more than 22,000 in 2011, according to the CDC.

Valley Fever is a fungal respiratory infection that is caused by inhaling a fungus called Coccidioides. This strain of fungus is found in the soil in many Southwestern states.

Some who are exposed suffer flu-like symptoms that can last for as long as months. Studies have shown that of those who get sick, almost 75 percent miss work or school for around two weeks, while more than 40 percent require hospitalization.

"Valley Fever is causing real health problems for many people living in the southwestern United States," Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said. "Because fungus particles spread through the air, it's nearly impossible to completely avoid exposure to this fungus in these hardest-hit states. It's important that people be aware of Valley Fever if they live in or have traveled to the southwest United States."

The cause of the recent increase in Valley Fever is still unknown. Experts have theorized it could be because of changes in the weather, higher numbers of new residents and changes in the way the disease is detected and reported.

Early diagnosis and treatment is important for people vulnerable to severe forms of Valley Fever.

"This is a serious and costly disease and more research is needed on how to reduce its effects," Benjamin J. Park, chief epidemiologist of the CDC's Mycotic Diseases Branch, said.