Could Montana See Rise in Cases of Flesh-Eating Fungus Found in Soil?
Recently, the Washington Post published a feature about a fungus present in the soil that can cause Valley Fever, which in some rare cases is fatal.
What's somewhat alarming is the story suggests that over time, the fungus in the soil will spread across Western states.
According to the CDC, there have been documented cases in Montana. If you're unfamiliar with Valley Fever, you might not be alone.
What is Valley Fever or Coccidioidomycosis?
Valley Fever is a condition that arises from coming into contact with soil that has been contaminated by the Coccidioides fungus. According to the Mayo Clinic, people can get Valley Fever by breathing in the fungi, and "The fungi's spores can be stirred into the air by anything that disrupts the soil, such as farming, construction, and wind."
The common symptom is a fever, as the name suggests, but more severe cases have more troubling symptoms. In the feature from the Washington Post, they described the symptoms of a man named Erik McIntyre. McIntyre is now paralyzed and has had "...lesions where the fungus grew on his face and arms..."
Where Is the Fungus and Where Is it Going?
Current estimations of where the fungus is growing show it's mostly in the southwestern United States, however, you can see in the map above there is a pocket in eastern Washington/western Idaho. According to the Washington Post, one scientist is projecting that "the fungus could spread across much of the western half of the country by the end of the century."
What Does This Mean for Montana?
It appears based on this map, which has data from 2011-2017, that Montana has had cases of Valley Fever already. The CDC does point out that the cross-hatching represents information that "might not be reliable." But two counties show 0-5.9 cases per 100,000 people. The CDC also points out that in counties with cases where the fungus has not been identified in the soil, people with Valley Fever likely picked it up somewhere else.
Even so, this is probably a situation worth keeping an eye on. It may be decades before Montana might have contaminated soil, but we may see more cases of Valley Fever before then.
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Gallery Credit: Dom DiFurio & Jacob Osborn