Dust storms and valley fever

Call them haboobs or dust storms; they affect transportation, agriculture and upper respiratory health issues. They may also be related to Valley Fever Infection, according to a new study[1].

Scientists found that both warmer sea surface temperatures in the North Pacific and colder waters off the coast of California were the likely culprit. Such conditions lead to drier and cooler north winds blowing into the southwestern U.S. This also leads to drier soil.
The nation’s largest number of dust storms from 1988 to 2011 are concentrated in the Southwest states – the same states reporting the nation's highest numbers of Valley fever cases. Dust storms in the region have more than doubled between the 1990s and the 2000s. And we see that Valley fever is increasing in the same region

Officially termed San Joaquin Valley Fever, it is a lung condition caused by fungii (Coccidioides immitis and Coccidioides posadasii) that reside in dust and soil in some areas in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and South America. It was also recently found in south-central Washington.

Though the Valley Fever fungus has been shown to thrive in wet soils after heavy rains, it is most effectively dispersed when conditions are dry. Valley fever is an under-recognized but serious infectious disease. Although the factors which cause Valley fever outbreaks are complex, research shows that dust and climate clearly play a role in its occurrence.

There is already some evidence that diseases in other parts of the world, such as meningitis and Kawasaki disease[2], may be related to wind blown dust.

[1] Tong et al: Intensified dust storm activity and Valley fever infection in the southwestern United States in Geophysical Research Letters – 2017
[2] Jorquera et al: Association of Kawasaki disease with tropospheric winds in Central Chile: is wind-borne desert dust a risk factor? in environment International – 2015

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