It killed 39 people in Arizona and sickened thousands more in 2019. This year, more than 9,000 residents of the Grand Canyon State have contracted it.
We’re talking about Valley fever, a sometimes-lethal lung infection caused by a fungus known as Coccidioides and which is commonly seen in workers in the construction trade, agriculture, landscapers and anyone else who works outdoors.
A problem for years, Valley fever made headlines again recently after scientists announced the development of a first-of-its-kind vaccine. This vaccine, however, was developed for dogs, not humans.
That may come down the line, years and hundreds of millions of dollars away yet.
Until then, and doubtlessly thereafter, masks – yes, the now-familiar-to-all N95 – will remain the best line of defense for anyone who spends a good part of their day toiling in the soil, especially during monsoon season, which put more dust, dirt and bacteria into the air.
For the uninitiated, symptoms of the disease are similar to the flu or COVID-19 and include fatigue, shortness of breath and fever. Severe cases can cause serious lung problems and even death.
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The development of a vaccine, even if just for canines, is seen as a huge boon in efforts to develop a version that humans can use.
Researchers said dogs that received two doses of the vaccine were significantly more protected from the fungus that those that were not.
In Arizona, veterinarians see thousands of dogs each year with Valley fever. Their symptoms are often the same as those seen in their owners – cough and fatigue. But Valley fever in dogs also causes bone lesions and even blindness.
The Cost of Valley Fever
According to estimates, Valley fever cost the U.S. nearly $4 billion per year – an expense that is expect to grow because climate change means Valley fever is cropping up in places where we haven’t seen it before.
The fungus responds to warm environments, suggesting that as temperatures rise and drought worsens, so do the places where Coccidioides begins to show up. For example, Washington State was previously thought to be too cold for the fungus. But that’s not the case any longer.
How Can You Prevent Valley Fever?
That’s not easy. We’re talking about avoiding microscopic fungal spores, hence the notion that a mask can help. The only other option is to avoid spending time in dusty places as much as possible – something that’s impractical for anyone in the construction field or any industry that requires working outdoors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a few other risk-reduction ideas. Among them:
- Stay inside during dust storms and close your windows.
- Use air filtration measures indoors.
- Clean skin injuries well with soap and water to reduce the chances of developing a skin infection, especially if the wound was exposed to dirt or dust.
- Take preventive antifungal medication if your healthcare provider says you need it.
The Mahoney Group, based in Mesa, Ariz., is one of the largest independent insurance and employee benefits brokerages in the nation. For more information about business insurance coverage, contact us online or call 480-730-4920.
This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.