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Volume 27, Issue 3

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August 14, 2013

Valley Fever, Explained

Cases of an illness known as valley fever have increased dramatically over the past decade. So what is it exactly? And who's at risk? We went to California's Central Valley to find out—watch the video above, then read this handy FAQ.

What is it? Coccidioidomycosis—commonly known as valley fever—is a fungal disease. Its spores live in the soil. If the soil becomes dry and dusty, people and animals can breathe it in, allowing the spores to grow inside their bodies.

What does valley fever feel like? It depends. Some people who get valley fever don't have any symptoms at all; in others the disease resembles a cold or flu. Some develop a pneumonia-like condition from the fungus in their lungs. In rare cases, the fungus disseminates and can even attack the brain. According to the CDC more than 40 percent of people who become ill from valley fever may require hospital visits; the average cost of that visit is $50,000. Between 1990 and 2008 there were 3,089 reported deaths from valley fever, though some public health experts suspect that it was an underlying cause of many more deaths.