At 5 a.m. on December 4, 2017, Jesse Merrick received a message from his roommate. “Hope your family is fine,” he remembered reading when he woke up. The Thomas Fire had just erupted in Southern California and was rapidly evolving into a massive nearly 300,000-acre giant. Jesse desperately tries to reach his relatives in Ventura. When she finally held her mother, she broke down. “She answers the phone and she’s crying hysterically,” Jesse said. “She says, ‘It’s gone. It’s all gone.'”
Merricks’ ranch-style home, which contained most of Jesse’s childhood belongings, burned down that day. A week after the fire broke out, he reached out to help his mother be rescued. He spent days filtering the debris. Jesse, a former college football player, takes on the daunting task of sorting through the rubble in the deep, charcoal hull of his basement. The whole family wore masks to protect their lungs from dust and gloves to protect their hands from sharp objects. But it was not enough protection from the danger lurking in the dirt.
Three weeks later, Jesse had to move back home to Alabama, where he was working as a sportscaster. He was in charge of covering the annual Sugar Bowl college football game in New Orleans—a huge occasion. But when he got there, nothing seemed right. “I felt like I had been hit by a bus,” he said. Jesse chalked it up to jet lag and carried on through the broadcast. But his symptoms did not subside. Instead, they got much, much worse. Within a few days, he was coughing and running a low-grade fever. A rash appeared on his upper torso. “I remember being sad,” he said. “I wasn’t sleeping.” Once the rash started rolling down her neck, about four days after she first felt sick, Jesse knew she had to go to an urgent care clinic.
This was the first of many doctor’s visits. For a month, Jesse’s symptoms worsened. Giant fringes appeared around his joints as if someone had hit him with a baseball bat. He got pneumonia, which hurt everything, up to breathing. Walking was painful. “It felt like someone was stabbing the bottom of my feet with a knife,” Jesse recalled.
By the time her primary care doctor discovered a 6-centimeter mass in her lung, Jesse was beginning to think that whatever disease she had, could actually take her life. Biopsy and spinal tap-last-ditch efforts were scheduled to find the source of his disease. But on the morning of the procedures, a team of infectious disease specialists showed up in his hospital room. “It was like I was on an episode of House Or something,” Jessie said with a laugh. Biopsies and spinal taps had suddenly become irrelevant. Specialists were able to give her what her regular doctor couldn’t: a diagnosis.
Jesse had a disease called Valley Fever. It is caused by one of two strains of fungus called Coccidioides, Cocci In short, it thrives in soil in the deserts of California and the Southwest. The mass in his lung was not cancerous, it was a fungal ball – a glob of fungal hyphae, or mushroom filaments, and mucus. Infectious disease specialists started her on an intravenous drip of fluconazole, an antifungal drug. “Immediately, I started feeling better,” Jesse said.
That day Jesse got lucky. Infectious disease specialists were in the right place at the right time. Some 60 percent Cases of valley fever cause no symptoms or mild symptoms, which most patients confuse with the flu or the common cold. But 30 percent of those infected develop a moderate illness that requires medical care, like JC. And another 10 percent have severe infections – the disseminated form of the disease, when the fungus spreads beyond the lungs to other parts of the body. Those cases can be fatal.
Doctors don’t know why some people have no symptoms while others go to the emergency room. But they do know that pregnant people, the immunocompromised, African Americans and Filipinos are especially at risk. and they also know that Cocci is a generalist. Any person, dog, or other mammal that breathes air containing fungal spores is at risk of developing the disease, which kills about 200 people in the US each year. No vaccine currently exists, and antifungal treatment is a Band-Aid, not a cure.
Jesse’s difficulty in getting a rapid and accurate diagnosis is not an isolated incident. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that some 150,000 cases Doctors and epidemiologists say valley fever is undiagnosed every year—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The disease is endemic to certain geographic areas, and is technically considered an “emerging disease”, even though doctors have been finding it in their patients for more than a century, as cases have increased in recent years. growing from. In some places, astronomically so. According to CDC data, there has been an increase in cases of valley fever in the US 32 percent between 2016 and 2018. One study determined that cases rose in California 800 percent Between 2000 and 2018.
In most states where the disease is endemic, public health departments have been slow to understand and advertise the breadth and potential impact of the disease, experts say, and the federal government is doing more to fund research into a cure or vaccine for the infection. can. . To date, only one multicenter, prospective comparative trial has been conducted for the treatment of valley fever. And, more troublingly, researchers haven’t explained what’s behind the increase in cases or how to stop it. However, one thing is almost certain: Climate change plays a role.
In 1892, a Alejandro Posadas, a medical student in Buenos Aires, met an Argentine soldier who was seeking treatment for a skin problem. Posadas documented a fungus-like mass on the patient’s right cheek. During the next seven years, the soldier experienced worsening skin sores and fever, and eventually died. His story is the first to be broadcast Coccidioidomycosis On the record.
Around the same time, a manual laborer in the San Joaquin Valley walked into a San Francisco hospital with skin lesions that looked like wounds on a patient from Buenos Aires. The methods doctors used to treat patients in San Francisco were barbaric. They cut off her face, treated the wounds with oils of turpentine and carbolic acid, and cleaned her raw skin with a solution of bichloride. He was only successful in torturing his patient, who eventually died.
over the next few decades, as more people became ill Coccidioidomycosis And died, doctors discovered that the organism that caused the disease often entered the victim through the lungs. In 1929, a 26-year-old medical student at Stanford University Medical School cut a dry Coccidioides culture and accidentally breathed in its spores. Nine days later, he was lying in bed. But this time the patient’s condition improved and he finally recovered. His illness will soon help doctors forge a vital connection.
It was only a few years later that the Kern County Department of Public Health in California began investigating the causes of a common disorder called “San Joaquin fever,” “desert fever,” or “valley fever,” which got its name from the state. Central Valley, where the disease was prevalent. As doctors reviewed the evidence in Kern County, they saw parallels between cases of valley fever there and the illness experienced by a Stanford student. Valley fever, he guessed, represented Coccidioidomycosis Infection.
Over the next decades, researchers discovered some important truths about valley fever. They found that it is endemic to certain regions of the world, that the fungus that causes the disease lives in the soil, that most people infected with it are asymptomatic, and, importantly, that weather patterns and seasonal climatic conditions have an effect. the breadth of Coccidioides.
few years Earlier, Morgan Gorris, an Earth systems scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, decided to investigate an important question: what makes a place hospitable. Cocci? He soon discovered that fungi thrive in a set of specific conditions. The US counties where valley fever is endemic have average annual temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and receive 600 millimeters of rain annually. “Essentially, they were hot and dry counties,” Gorris says. He pasted those geographic areas on a map that met those criteria and overlaid them with CDC projections where Cocci Rises. Certainly, the county, which extends from West Texas into the Southwest and into California (with a small patch in Washington).
But then Goris did his analysis a Next Step. She decided to see what would happen to valley fever under a climate change scenario with high emissions. In other words, will the disease spread if humans continue to emit greenhouse gases as usual. “Once I did that, I found that by the end of the 21st century, much of the western US could be endemic to valley fever,” she said. “Our endemic area may extend as far north as the US-Canada border.”
reason to believe it Cocci The expansion may already be happening, Bridget Barker, a researcher at Northern Arizona University, told Grist. There have been recent outbreaks of valley fever in parts of Utah, Washington, and northern Arizona. “It’s concerning for us because, yes, that would indicate that it’s happening right now,” Barker said. “If we look at the overlap with soil temperature, we actually see that Cocci seems somewhat restricted by freezing.” Barker is still working on determining what the soil temperature range is. Cocci Fungus. But, in general, the facts …