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Researchers: Progress seen in identifying, treating Valley Fever

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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (CBS5) -

When it comes to Valley Fever, some of the most groundbreaking research is actually taking place in Flagstaff.

At a nonprofit laboratory in Flagstaff, researchers are studying the genomes of bacteria, fungi and viruses.  The purpose is to develop new drugs and/or diagnostic tools to help fight conditions like Valley Fever.  

"There's no doubt that the Sonoran Desert is the hotspot for Valley Fever," said David Engelthaler, director and epidemiologist with TGEN North in Flagstaff.

The fungus lives in the very top layers of soil and loves the extreme heat of the Desert Southwest.

"The sun will kill everything else in the soil, and then once rains come, the fungus can take off and grow like crazy," Engelthaler said.

And once that fungus gets kicked up into the air and you breathe it in, that's when problems occur.

"After about two to four weeks, that fungus will grow, and it'll start to cause chest pain symptoms, it'll start to cause fever, you'll start to get night sweats, maybe a cough associated with that and it'll progressively get worse and it'll start to feel like a pneumonia," said Engelthaler.

Although we can't prevent exposure to the fungus, we can minimize it.

"Don't go outside during these really dusty days, the dust storms, the haboobs that occur during the monsoon season, that's probably pretty wise," said Engelthaler.

If you have any type of lung infection or pneumonia that just won't seem to go away, the key is asking your doctor specifically about Valley Fever.

Engelthaler added, "Our foci here are - let's improve physician knowledge about it, let's improve the tests available for physicians, let's develop better drugs so that physicians can actually do something about it, and let's make sure that people know about it too."

The only good news about Valley fever is that if you've had it and fully recovered from it, you are highly unlikely to ever get it again.

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