Gov. Janet Napolitano released $50,000 in health crisis funds this week to combat the outbreak of valley fever. The money will be used to educate doctors on the symptoms of the fungal disease and its treatment.
“Doctors aren’t making the connection,” said Pati Urias, spokeswoman for the governor’s office.
Often, patients are misdiagnosed as having pneumonia or aren’t tested for the disease, Urias said.
This year is on track to be the worst on the books for cases reported, according to state epidemiologist David Engelthaler.
A total of 3,732 cases were reported statewide in 2005. By the end of May this year, 2,559 cases were reported.
But Engelthaler said experts believe the numbers are only the “tip of the iceberg” and that true numbers could be closer to 100,000 infected each year with a mild form of the affliction.
Valley fever is spread when the desert soil is disturbed. The fungus releases spores that can lead to infection if breathed into the lungs.
The disease can be treated, but can also prove deadly in some cases.
Those infected with the disease usually exhibit flulike symptoms including a fever, headache, chills and a cough. However, the cough usually lasts long after other symptoms have disappeared and typically worsens over time, Engelthaler said.
Half of all cases in the world happen in Maricopa County. Valley fever is also found in dry-weather places in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and South America.
Engelthaler said the increase is “likely due to the environment conditions of the past few years.”
High rainfall followed by a severe drought are prime conditions for growth of the valley fever fungus living in the soil, Engelthaler said.
He said increased construction over the past 10 years also has contributed to the spread of the disease.