The Long-Standing Belief of the Relationship between Dust Storms and Valley Fever Outbreaks Has Been Disproven

According to recent studies, the long-harbored belief which relates dust storms to the outbreak of valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is untrue. Coccidioidomycosis is a fungal disease caused by the fungus Coccidioides. The fungus is known to inhabit the soils in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and Central and Southern America. Valley fever is an infection that affects the lungs, and in severe cases can spread to other organs. People become infected by breathing in air that contains the infections spores from the fungus.

Dust Storm

Dust Storm

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Researchers and public health officials have often assumed that the spread of the infectious spores from these fungi can be associated with dust storms. This belief has been upheld since the outbreak of the fever at Kern County, California, in 1977, after the historic dust storm, the Tempest from Tehachapi, swept through the county that year. However, new studies by Andrew Comrie and other researchers debunked this belief as they discovered that there was no consistent connection between both phenomena.

What was done

The analysis carried out by Andrew Comrie using a technique called compositing is one of the recent studies that rule out this belief. Comrie analyzed around a hundred dust storm outbreaks at Maricopa County, Arizona, and Kern County, California, looking for disease spikes in each of the 12 months following each storm. After his analysis, he found no apparent increase in the outbreak of the disease in these areas.

To further investigate the existence of an interrelation between both events, he made further findings using the same technique but now examining on weekly basis instead of monthly, and the results still turned out the same – the occurrence of the fever in those areas after the storms remained minimal.

In another study, some scientists noted the concentration of airborne coccidioides before, during, and after a major dust storm that swept through Arizona in 2015, and found that higher concentrations of the spores were present in the soil before the storms than at any other time. Every research carried out still resulted in the same conclusion.

However, the significant difference between the outbreak of the Tempest at Kern County, California, in 1977, and those that occurred during the times of the research was the fact that the former disrupted soil from as deep as 15 centimeters below the surface, while the latter disturbed only superficial soil. This discovery paved the way for better control measures of the fever to be explored.

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Since the surfaces of desert soils are harsh and unfriendly to the spores, there exists little or no spores at soil surfaces. They, therefore, reside in layers of soil below the surface for survival, and only activities that disturb the soil at these layers can induce the spread of the spores.

Clinical Significance

These recent findings which rule out the long-harbored belief of the relationship between dust storms and valley fever outbreaks should be made known to the public by public health officials to enable the discovery of better procedures to curb the spread of the spores.


Only actions which disrupt the soil beyond its surface are likely to spread the fungus since they do not survive for long on the harsh surface of desert soils.

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No Consistent Link Between Dust Storms and Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)



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