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Valley Fever Will Become More Common As Droughts Increase

Anything that disturbs the soil can cause a massive uptick in cases. Clearing bush, drilling, building or anything else that disturbs the soil allows the spores to rise to the surface. All it needs then is wind to move around.

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Valley Fever Will Become More Common As Droughts Increase



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Dust plume rises 5,000 feet above the San Joaquin Valley southeast of Bakersfield, CA, in December 1977 windstorm. 

Have you heard of coccidioidomycosis? Possibly not, but you may well have heard of Valley Fever.

It’s a fungal disease and is caused by inhaling the spores of Coccidioides immitis, a fungus found in soil joined together into barrel shaped units that fragment easily when they become airborne, allowing the microscopic spores to move freely in even a slight breeze.

Although they are exceptionally easy to breathe in, they cannot be breathed out as they are adapted to lodge deep in the lungs. Once there, the spore swells into a circular spherule containing up to a hundred tiny endospores. When it is swollen to its maximum, it bursts, sending out the endospores and triggering an acute inflammatory response that is so intense it can actually block blood flow to tissues leading to necrosis.

Each of the endospores then turns into a spherule which will then swell and burst releasing its contents.

The symptoms are very similar to the flu, with fever, cough and exhaustion. In a small percentage of cases, the endospores escape from the lungs and settle in other tissues and each year people die due to the endospores getting into the meninges, the thin membranes that cover the brain.

Of the 150,000 reported cases a year, less than half show symptoms but for those that do, especially if it reaches the brain, the treatment can be painful and can literally last a lifetime.

Anything that disturbs the soil can cause a massive uptick in cases. Clearing bush, drilling, building or anything else that disturbs the soil allows the spores to rise to the surface. All it needs then is wind to move around.

In 1977  San Joaquin Valley, California was designated a disaster area. There was a drought. On December 20th, a strong wind started up in the Bakersfield area at the southern end of the valley. A cloud of loose dust, the over dried topsoil, rose up in a huge duststorm so intense that traffic on highways stopped where it was. Houses were sandblasted, as was anything else in the way of the dust storm. Twenty hours into the storm the dust reached Sacramento County. Residents complained of stinging eyes and noses.

The following day, Sacramento County had rain, and the dust turned to a sludge like mud. Within a few weeks Sacramento had recorded more than 100 cases of Valley Fever. Six people died during the outbreak. For two decades before the Bakersfield dust storm there had never been more than half a dozen cases a year in the Sacramento area.

Cocci is endemic in desert areas of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.

Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

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