NM Health Department Launches Valley Fever Initiative

New Mexico – A disease known as Valley Fever is prevalent in neighboring states but probably underreported in New Mexico, so state health officials are launching a new initiative aimed at finding more cases of the illness.

State epidemiologist Dr. Chad Smelser says recent assessments have shown that a fungus called coccidioides is prevalent in Chihuahuan desert soils and is spread by wind storms.

The fungus can cause Valley Fever, which can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, skin rashes and tumors.

The state's new initiative will teach medical providers to test for and treat the disease.

Smelser says the number of cases reported in New Mexico will likely increase once providers start testing for the disease.

New Mexico reports only 40 to 60 cases each year. Arizona, for example, reported more than 10,000 cases last year.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.