EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second story in our new podcast series titled Danger in dust. You can read our first article, on a vaccine against valley fever, HERE.
TUCSON, Arizona (KOLD News 13) – If you’ve lived in our beautiful part of the desert for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed to Valley Fever. This is because the spores of the fungi that live in Arizona dirt and dust cause this regional disease.
“As I always tell my patients, you can’t live in a bubble. You live here, ”said Dr. Fariba Donovan, of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Tucson. “So the important thing is also to look for the symptoms, and if that happens, get help.”
Dr Donovan says it’s crucial, now more than ever, that people with symptoms get tested for valley fever because the symptoms are so similar to COVID-19. In fact, a third of all pneumonia cases in valley fever endemic areas, such as southern Arizona, are due to valley fever.
“If you look at the symptoms: cough, chest pain, fever, joint pain, all of them are the same as what you have or someone says they have with COVID,” Dr Donovan said.
She says she has patients who got multiple negative tests for COVID before eventually contracting valley fever, and finding out that’s what made them sick. When the coronavirus took center stage, Valley Fever tests dropped.
That, along with a very dry 2020, are the reasons Dr Donovan expects cases to double this year. She wants patients and doctors to consider the possibility of valley fever.
“Because of the overlap, because of the pandemic, everyone has been thinking about Covid, but that doesn’t mean valley fever is going away,” Donovan said.
No one knows this better than Jeff Winebrenner, a young husband and father of two, forever changed by these spores in the dust.
“I got sick from the dust,” Winebrenner said. “Which is essentially dust. I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t have unprotected sex, I didn’t do anything. I breathed some air and it made me really sick.
Of those infected with valley fever, 60% don’t even know they have it. Many of those who get sick don’t even need medication. But for the rare few, like Winebrenner, it can be devastating – a lifelong fight, costing around a million dollars.
“I ended up with disseminated blister meningitis, which is basically a valley fever that has moved from your lungs to different parts of your body. mine was right in my brain and cerebrospinal fluid. So that made it interesting, ”Winebrenner said.
He had just moved here for a teaching job and thinks he breathed in the spores from a pumpkin patch.
“You don’t have to try very hard to get it. So when the wind blows, that dust moves, and you breathe it in, and … yuck. Another crazy thing to fear, ”Winebrenner said.
Since then, he has been ill intermittently, which makes regular work impossible. But, he’s thrilled to be part of a clinical trial that’s starting soon. Jeff thinks this could be a game-changer. In the meantime, he focuses on his family.
“This will be my mission in life, is to be a good father until we can heal from this and I can get in there and start swinging again,” he said.
For complete information on Valley Fever, check out our brand new “Danger In the Dust” podcast, available now in the Apple Podcasts app, iTunes Store, or Google Podcasts. Just search for “KOLD News 13” and click “Danger in the Dust”.
We have three episodes available now, with many more to come. Be sure to hit that “subscribe” button to get updates when new episodes go live.
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