Human activities tearing up the Mojave and Sonoran deserts set loose potentially lethal spores-

Residents of the desert areas of Arizona, California, Utah and New Mexico generally become aware that they could get a nasty fungal disease called coccidioidomycosis (kok-sid-e-oy-doh-my-KOH-sis). 99% of the cases come from these 4 states.  It is informally called Valley Fever, which is easier to pronounce.

The fungal spores live in arid land soil where they are no threat, but they like lungs too as a good alternative when farming, construction or livestock break up the natural desert crust exposing the spores to the wind.  Since 1990 about 3000 have died from the disease nationwide with about half coming from California. Unfortunately in the last 4-5 years the incidence of disease has taken a sharp turn upward. It has gone up 16% a year in Arizona and 13% a year in California.

The reason for the increase is not known, but the sudden growth corresponds to the opening up the desert to wind and solar farms which significantly destroy the natural surface of the desert.  Many of the new cases are in populated parts of California where the Santa Ana wind storms blow in dust from the desert.  In addition to solar farms that scape huge areas of the desert bare, the continuing growth of off-road vehicle use, and mining might contribute to more pathogenic dust in the air.  In some recent years, desert wildfires, a growing problem, might have contributed to mobilization of the spores into the wind.

The symptoms are usually much like asthma, the flu or pneumonia.  Coccidioidomycosis is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether, especially in people who have merely visited the endemic areas. Valley fever can also cause the body to become covered with skin lesions and can infect the eyes, leading to blinding.

Livestock and wildlife too becomes infected.

The disease can be cured by treatment with systemic anti-fungal drugs. This treatment is dangerous and painful.

A rising number of articles are appearing alerting the public to danger. Here is a good one because it has pictures and points fingers. Valley Fever Epidemic Linked To Desert Solar Construction; Heightens Concerns Over Risks From Large-Scale Wind And Solar Projects. East County Magazine.

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5-13-13. More on Valley Fever. We should add that the news about the spread of Coccidioidomycosis is going viral.

“Is climate change fueling an epidemic? Outbreaks of valley fever have been attributed in part to climbing temperatures in California and Arizona.” Salon Magazine.  By Tara Loahn.

They should add that efforts to retard climate change by mass disturbance of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts for solar farms and wind farms is also fueling the epidemic.

Valley Fever Throws Baseball a Curve. Scientific American. By Brian Bienkowski and The Daily Climate
 

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

21 Responses to Valley Fever, growing threat to SW desert hikers, hunters, nature buffs, ATVers, prisoners, residents (More news added)

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I hate this rushing to complete these monstrous projects without knowing how it will affect the environment, nor taking it into account. :(

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Western Watersheds Project sued to stop the massive Ivanpah solar farm (now three units), but lost. They also tried to stop the big wind farm in Spring Valley, Nevada just below Great Basin National Park and near a huge bat cave. They lost that one too.

      Alternative energy does not necessarily equal green energy or energy that is a friend of democracy. energy. Some of it is emerging as quite a threat. Everyone should visit a desert solar farm, if they will let you get near it.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Alternative energy does not necessarily equal green energy or energy that is a friend of democracy.

        No it does not. But people hear the word ‘green’ and believe the campaign.

        Solar is even more expansive than wind. Some of these things are being put up along highways and you can see how much room they take up and they are quite ‘industrial’ looking. It gives the architectural form ‘brutalism’ entirely new meaning. :(

        I think it is a way to do something quickly to put job numbers on the board and also to appear as progress away from fossil fuels. But there is no real substance to it. It takes what are good concepts and defeats their purpose.

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          But rooftop solar would seem the answer to everyone’s prayers, and also putting them in parking lots, shopping mall roofs, landfills, etc. Land that is already developed. Wind (on land) works great for small areas. Plenty of them in the cities and will increase also. But I guess we’d rather demolish more undeveloped land. As yet, we do not have anything that gives the bang for the buck of fossil fuels. :(

          • avatar Ida Lupine says:

            Make that ‘plenty of roofs in the cities and will increase also.’ Solar panels are a lot less intrusive and look more attractive also. Blending in with the landscape and not dominating it.

            Why shouldn’t we keep our power needs close to where we live and us it, instead of taking up more land and destroying more wild areas? Being less wasteful wouldn’t hurt, either.

      • avatar Zach says:

        Of all the places to build a wind farm in Nevada…

  2. avatar Mark L says:

    Is anybody using dogs to search for dead bats around the wind project? Odd question I know, but works as good enviromental evidence in many locations.

  3. avatar Leslie says:

    Ralph, thanks for posting this. Hadn’t heard about this but it sure makes sense.

  4. avatar Leslie says:

    I spent a month this winter in Palm Springs. As a kid growing up in the late 50′s and 60′s, we used to go there every spring. At that time, PS was a sleepy little desert town. I haven’t been back since the early 90′s. Besides Coachella valley growing exponentially,I was shocked at the amount of wind turbines–thousands; and solar farms. The valley is one of the most beautiful places, with 10,000 foot mountains on either side of the desert. Not only has rampant unchecked growth and golf courses compromised desert habitat, but the wind farms (and more are planned) have completely ruined the visuals. I could go on and on. It was so sad.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      Besides Coachella valley growing exponentially,I was shocked at the amount of wind turbines–thousands; and solar farms. The valley is one of the most beautiful places, with 10,000 foot mountains on either side of the desert. Not only has rampant unchecked growth and golf courses compromised desert habitat, but the wind farms (and more are planned) have completely ruined the visuals. I could go on and on. It was so sad.

      Grrrr….I hate golf courses. How many freakin’ golf courses do we need in this country? Especially in deserts – the mind boggles thinking about how much damage is done with water use, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers.

  5. avatar Mary Sojourner says:

    Thank you all – for posting this and for your comments. I’m finishing up a new novel with the central theme of the damage the corporate solar farms will do and are threatening to do to ancient Native American sacred sites. Here’s a good source of info: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-Destruction-of-Blythe-Intaglios/101627953264330?fref=ts
    So often, the cultural damage is by-passed by the media and the governmental agencies – and, of course, the big energy dogs, one of whom has said, “We love the dessert as much as the “Indians”.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Thank you, Mary. I hope your novel does well. I hope people will check out your Facebook site.

      To be honest, since my long trips to the deserts of AZ, NV, and CA this winter and spring, and the dust storms, I have some symptoms and a doctor’s appointment has been made.

      • avatar ZeeWolf says:

        Ralph, may good health be yours. I am headed to NV and CA and not quite keen on being a potential victim of VF.

        • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

          Thank you, Zeewolf.

          You will be Ok if you stay instead on a dust storm day.

  6. avatar ZeeWolf says:

    National Public Radio had a segment on Valley Fever this morning.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/05/13/181880987/cases-of-mysterious-valley-fever-rise-in-american-southwest

    It is interesting to note the lag between regional and national, “mainstream” news. Also, NPR does not address any of the potential causes. In fact, in line with most mainstream news sources and the genearl attitude of Americans at large, the medical response to VF seems to be the typical “hammer and tongs” approach to “curing” this disease. What ever happened to “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”?

    • avatar my roommate ate my sandwich says:

      No one cares about prevention anymore, be it public health, public safety, education, etc. I’m not surprised this is happening, but I’m surprised more precautions weren’t taken in estimating the amount of potential bird mortality. It’s highly likely that where the winds are the greatest, bird species will also be in the area. To prevent further destruction to the environment, we should instead be focusing on reducing explosive populations.

  7. avatar Snaildarter says:

    I hear the tsetse fly is the only reason we have any big mammals left in Africa, maybe Valley fever can save the American desert.

  8. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    I added to links to the article just now. Valley fever might have a big effect on a number of desert activities and projects and adjacent urban areas.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey