Doctors are warning that a fungal infection found in the Southwest could start spreading to other parts of the country. The Coccidioides fungus causes Valley Fever and is found in soil in warm, dry, and dusty areas across California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas.
When the fungal spores are inhaled, they can infect the lungs and cause symptoms similar to COVID-19, including cough, difficulty breathing, fever, and fatigue. It can also cause a red spotty rash on the lower legs, arms, and back.
In rare instances, it can spread to other body parts, such as the skin, bones, liver, and brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, once the infection spreads, it can cause ulcers and painful lesions on the skin, skull, or bones.
While Valley Fever may sound like something out of HBO's new series Last of Us, the infection cannot spread from person to person. However, it does kill an average of 200 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Those are mostly people with severe immunocompromising illnesses underlying this infection," Dr. Brad Perkins, a former CDC official, told Fox Weather. "It can be a devastating infection in those people. That's pretty rare, fortunately."
A study published in 2019 warned that warming temperatures and the severe drought in the Southwest could cause the fungal infection to spread to other parts of the country.
"At first, I was skeptical," Dr. George Thompson, a professor at UC Davis Health, told Fox News. "But I've recently heard about new cases emerging in Nebraska and even Missouri, so I think it's in the realm of possibility."