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With new grant funding, researchers hope to identify Valley fever hotspots

The Arizona Board of Regents is  putting $4.5 million toward Valley fever research over the next three years. The funding comes at a time when Valley fever infections are increasing. 

Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is more common in Arizona than anywhere else. More than 11,000 Arizonans caught it in 2021, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. It’s caused by a fungus found in desert soils, but not much is known about how the fungus grows and spreads.

“Even though we talk about Valley fever being endemic to the Sonoran desert, it doesn’t uniformly colonize all of the desert. It’s very, very small parts of it, actually,” said Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona. “If we knew exactly where it was, we could concentrate management strategies to keep the fungus from getting in the air.” 

The new Regents' Grant will allow Galgiani and other researchers from the state's three public universities to work alongside state health officials and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to try to pinpoint Valley fever hotspots. 

The timing is critical, Galgiani said, since drought means Arizona is only getting drier and dustier. 

"There's this whole discussion about the region that we now know of as endemic for Valley fever expanding because of changes in climate," Galgiani said.  

Funding for the grant comes from Arizona's Technology and Research Initiative Funds, a sales tax program established in 2001.  

→  Arizona researchers have a Valley fever vaccine for dogs — and that's good news for humans

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.