New Mexico has prime conditions for Valley fever

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it the “silent epidemic.”

Everyday activities, like gardening or playing outside, could cause someone to contract a potentially deadly disease called “Valley fever” and experts say it’s predominantly found in New Mexico.

Symptoms include fever, cough, chills, and headaches, like the flu or a cold. Because symptoms are so similar, it’s often misdiagnosed and it may take doctors a while before they get an accurate diagnosis.

“Because it’s so underreported and not diagnosed, well, many doctors themselves are not understanding how to diagnose and treat it,” said David Filip, the author of “Valley Fever Epidemic.”

David’s mom, Sharon, contracted the disease. She noticed she had symptoms similar to the flu but was also extremely tired, even struggling to walk up and down the stairs.

“One day, I was perfectly fine. Then, the next day, I was seriously ill, and I’m not a person that goes to doctors easily,” Sharon said.

It took several weeks to get a diagnosis but her doctor said she had Valley fever.

The fungal infection is caused by breathing in microscopic spores that live in dirt.

“It’s been said that it takes only one microscopic spore to infect someone, and 15 trillion could fit on the head of a pen,” David said.

David is the author of the only book on Valley fever that’s published for general audiences.

David has been researching the disease for over two decades. He says the prolonged drought, geography and weather patterns in New Mexico make our state the perfect canvas for the disease to spread.

“The drought dries up the soil competitors so it can grow and then the rain allows the fungus to expand to get closer to the surface as people disturb the ground,” he said.

Some people with Valley fever experience just mild disease. However, 5-10% of cases lead to serious, long-term lung problems. The disease can spread to the brain and joints and, in some cases, is fatal.

There are currently no vaccines for the disease. Although, researchers at the University of Arizona say a potential cure is showing some promise.

If approved, it would be the first fungal vaccine of its kind in the U.S. for animals or humans.