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In California, Researchers Uncertain If Drought Will Increase Valley Fever Risk

February 21, 2014

This year, you’re likely to hear a lot of predictions about how the drought will impact our health, environment, and food.

But one thing you won’t hear is whether the dry conditions will – without a doubt - increase the risk of valley fever in California. Sure, it makes sense. Even microbiologist Antje Lauer expects that drought conditions, and drier soil, would increase the risk of valley fever.

“If we want to have less of the valley fever fungus in the soil, you would pray for more rain,” Lauer says. 

In a lab at Cal State Bakersfield, Lauer and her colleagues are studying what type of soil supports the valley fever fungus. They know this: When it’s hot and dry, the fungus makes a resilient spore, which can survive in the soil, and outlast other competitors.

“With an ongoing drought, you can hypothesize that you will have more and more areas where the valley fever fungus might occur, simply because its antagonists in the soil aren’t there anymore,” Lauer says. 

Her prediction continues: If a drought is followed up by just a little bit of rain, the valley fever fungus could start to grow in the soil, while other microbes struggle to re-establish themselves. Then, when the soil dries again, the spores can be blown into the air, and into our lungs.

Experts believe that, with the right ‘grow and blow’ conditions, valley fever may thrive after a drought.

“But this is also just hypothesis, which makes, from an ecological perspective, a lot of sense, but nobody has ever gotten any empirical data on this,” she says.


Read the full article on Valley Public Radio

Photo courtesy of  Rebecca Plevin Valley Public Radio.