'Valley Fever' on the rise in Los Angeles area

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Chills, fatigue, coughing and small sores. All of these sound like common cold symptoms. But these are all signs of an infection called "Valley Fever" that is commonly misdiagnosed.

Valley Fever is on the rise, and there has been a recent spike in cases in Los Angeles County.

Approximately 714 people were diagnosed with the disease last year, which is about 200 more than 2015, according to public health officials.

Some people who are infected with Valley Fever are barely affected while others can develop life-threatening symptoms.

Sheri Hill, her mom Jeannie Farrington and Hill's son Brandon are among the small percentage of people who caught the worst form of this disease.

"I developed a welt on my cheek, and that's how we found out it was disseminated," Hill said. "This disease is much worse than people realize."

Of the 150,000 cases reported each year, 60 percent of infected people show no symptoms. Others can experience pneumonia-like problems.

About one percent get the disseminated form, where fungal spheres burst and spread spores into the lungs and blood stream causing welts or sores months later.

Dr. John Galgiani, the director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona, received a $2 million grant to see if there are genetic reasons as to why some people get so sick from this type of disease.

"The fungus grows in the soil, and when things dry out, spores get out of the soil into the air. And if you happen to inhale one of these spores, you'll become infected," Galgiani said.

He said his research is also looking into possible prevention efforts.

"It's a part of precision medicine that you might be able to find some specific way of preventing that by intervening to supplement or to restore genetics in ways that are protective," he said.

Galgiani said he believes a vaccine may be possible to help since so many infected people have become immune.

Besides the vaccine, Hill said she just wants to make sure people learn the symptoms so they can get quick treatment.

The take-home message from doctors about Valley Fever is to always be aware of the environment and the weather. Doctors also advise people to stay away from activities that kick up dirt and to stay indoors during high winds and dust storms.
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