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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013 9:30 am

With the monsoon season here, Scottsdale Healthcare experts encourage individuals to safeguard themselves against Valley Fever, a lung infection caused by a fungus that lives in desert soil.

“People get Valley Fever by breathing in dust that contains the fungal spores. You can’t catch it from another person,” said family physician Chris Finlay, M.D. of Scottsdale Healthcare Primary Care Tempe.

“The best advice is to stay inside when there’s a lot of dust in the air.”

According to Finlay, Valley Fever can cause cough, fever, headache, fatigue and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include a rash, night sweats and weight loss.

“Sometimes, the fungus causes serious disease. Symptoms generally appear seven to 28 days after exposure,” said Finlay. “If you have symptoms, ask your physician to test you for Valley Fever.”

While most cases cause no or only mild symptoms, serious disease happens when the Valley Fever infection spreads to the skin, joints, bones or brain. Pregnant women, people with weak immune symptoms and people of African-American or Asian descent are at a higher risk for developing serious disease.

Testing for Valley Fever is generally done through a simple blood test.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Arizona has seen a large increase in the number of Valley Fever cases, from 1,474 in 1998 to 16,467 in 2011.

Last week U.S. Reps. David Schweikert (R-AZ) of Fountain Hills and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced the Valley Fever Task Force in the House of Representatives.

The task force, with the goal of taking legislative action on Valley Fever issues, will initiate a dialogue between Congress and the medical and scientific fields as well as host field hearings throughout the southwest later this year.

The task force will also work with community organizations to educate the public on the disease and seek new advancements in prevention and treatment with the ultimate goal of finding a cure for Valley Fever in the next decade.

“This task force is a much needed step toward raising awareness for this terrible disease and someday soon finding a cure,” Schweikert said. “Valley Fever has silently affected entire communities in the southwest including our family, friends, and even beloved pets.

“I am honored to be its founding member along with Rep. McCarthy and am hopeful that this working group will bring awareness, reduce the risk of misdiagnoses, and bring about a cure within the decade.”

“Many, if not all of us, know a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker that has been affected by Valley Fever and our fight against this disease continues. I am honored to join with Congressman Schweikert as we work together with our communities’ to raise awareness and eradicate this disease,” McCarthy said.

Schweikert and McCarthy are joined on the task force by 11 other members of the House from Arizona, California and Texas. Eight are Republicans and 3 are Democrats including Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona.