Climate change could make this year the worst yet for valley fever

Rob Purdie is an upbeat guy. You can hear it in his unfailingly positive statements, his voice tinged with a Central Valley twang from a life spent in Bakersfield.

You wouldn’t guess this is a man with a reservoir surgically built into the top of his skull, and that he spends one full day a month with antifungal drugs pumping directly into his brain.

Purdie has Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, a disease he caught in 2012 that’s caused by an airborne soil fungus. In his case, the fungus gave him meningitis, a swelling of the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord. The pain in his head has been intense, and the monthly drug injections are even more excruciating, he said.

“It sounds horrible, and it is,” Purdie said. But “lucky for me, valley fever meningitis can be treated.”

The number of reported valley fever cases set a record in California in 2016, with more than 6,000 infections. That number jumped to 8,103 in 2017, an increase of more than a third — growth many experts link to climate change. This year could be the worst yet.

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