Valley fever: A potential serious health risk from Phoenix ‘haboob’
A massive dust storm, or in Arabic “haboob”, some 3,000 feet tall and 30 miles wide (WATCH video) hit Phoenix, Arizona Friday forcing a ground stop at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and leaving 12,000 people without power.
Now health officials will be on the look out for the sometimes-lethal fungal infection in the affected population called Coccidioidomycosis, or Valley fever.
Valley fever is caused by a fungus found in the soil of much of the southwest United States.
People get infected with the fungus Coccidioides immitis by inhaling fungal spores that become airborne after disturbance of contaminated soil by humans or natural disasters like a dust storm.
In an endemic area like Arizona, up to 50% of residents will have already been exposed to this mold.
Approximately 60% of people infected with Coccidioides are asymptomatic and have self-limited respiratory tract infections. If symptoms do appear, they will appear 1-3 weeks after exposure. The symptoms, if present are usually non-specific, flu-like symptoms: fever, cough, headache, rash and muscle aches. Most make a full recovery within a month more or less.
However, in a small number of people (approx. 1%), the fungal infection can cause serious infection disseminating to visceral organs, the central nervous system, bone, skin or lymph nodes.
Disseminated Coccidioides infections occur more frequently in dark-skinned races. In addition, pregnant woman and the immunocompromised are more predisposed to disseminated infections.
In 2011, Arizona reported approximately 15,000 Valley fever cases ( the year of the massive dust storm that whipped up so much dirt and dust in the air from north of Tucson to Phoenix and all the way to Yuma}.
The next year, health officials in Arizona say that in 2012, there were more than 12,000 cases of the fungal disease. The 5-year average for Coccidioidomycosis in Arizona hovers around 9,000 annually from January through November. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page