Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Devin Buckley.
It was February 2018, and the previously healthy 18-year-old found that he couldn’t walk to the bathroom without becoming winded. That was in addition to the rapid weight loss, stomach problems and extreme fatigue that seemed to come out of nowhere.
The campus health center at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where Buckley was enrolled as a freshman, had no answers. Neither did anyone at urgent care.
Buckley was home in Chicago for spring break when he wound up in the intensive care unit, struggling to breathe. It was there that he was finally diagnosed with Valley fever, after a family friend suggested the doctors test for it.
“It blew my mind that something so serious could be not known,” Buckley, 24, said. “When I first got diagnosed, the word cancer was going around with some of the doctors — like they were screening me for that. So it just goes to show you how serious of a disease it is if doctors seeing it think the first thing I have is cancer.”
Valley fever is an infection caused by breathing in spores of the fungus coccidioides. The spores can survive through heat and drought, lingering in the soil. When the dirt is disturbed — through construction, wind or even walking — the spores can be lofted into the air.
The fungus is endemic to the hot, dry soils of the Southwest; 97% of all U.S. cases of Valley fever are reported in Arizona and California, according to the California Department of Public Health.
But that could change: Fungal infections, including Valley fever, are increasingly being diagnosed outside of their usual ranges. One study in the journal GeoHealth projected that, due to climate change, the range of Valley fever could spread east, through the Great Plains and north, to the Canadian border, before the end of the century
“As the temperatures warm up, and the western half of the U.S. stays quite dry, our desert-like soils will kind of expand and these drier conditions could allow coccidioides to live in new places,” said Morgan Gorris, who led the GeoHealth study while at the University of California, Irvine, and is now a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
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