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Research study expected to help reduce cases of Valley Fever by mapping out hotspots in Arizona

The three universities partnered using a $3.1 million grant to identify where Valley Fever affects people the most.

PHOENIX — In an effort to decrease the spread of Valley Fever in Arizona, three state universities are partnering to identify where the disease infects people the most. 

The Valley Fever Collaborative, which includes the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, has started a statewide research project to identify, characterize and map out hotspots and routes of exposure for Valley fever.

Valley Fever is an infectious disease caused by a fungus called Coccidioides, which is known to live in the soil of the southwestern U.S., and affects tens of thousands of people every year. The fungal spores can be readily inhaled, which is how most Valley fever infections are believed to occur, U of A's Health Sciences reported.

In 2019, Arizona accounted for 56% of the 18,407 Valley Fever cases reported in the country, according to the CDC.

“We know Arizona is responsible for two-thirds of all U.S. Valley fever infections, but just looking across the land we can’t tell which places the fungus grows or are the source of so many infections,” said John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence in the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

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Galgiani said the study will help connect the dots to figuring out which strains of the fungus affect people the most, where they come from and what makes the fungus thrive in the hotspots. 

"With this new information, we might prevent infections at work sites or even for everyone who lives here," Galgiani said in a statement. 

The study is funded by the Arizona Board of Regents, who awarded the Collaborative a $3.1 million grant to complete their research. 

Six projects will take place using the grants, including analyzing air and soil samples, and infected patients. The projects will be funded for three years. 

“Our goal is to address the problem of Valley fever at its source, in the soil and air we breathe,” said Neal Woodbury, vice president for research and chief science and technology officer for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “By understanding where the fungal pathogen grows and how it enters the air, we can pinpoint approaches to avoid human exposure to begin with.”

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