A desert fungus that infects humans is spreading


…And scientists don’t fully understand why.

Out of the millions of fungal species in the world, only a few hundred can make people sick. Coccidioides is one of them — and it lives in desert dust. Microscopic spores are kicked up when the ground is disturbed; if inhaled, they can cause an infection known as Valley fever. Most people recover without ever knowing they had it, but others will experience far more intense symptoms, ranging from pneumonia to meningitis. Coccidioides is also really good at eating … meat.

Fortunately, this fungus is typically only found in the southwestern US, parts of Mexico, and Central and South America — and cases are rare. But unfortunately, that range is expanding quickly. Scientists are racing to understand exactly why, because even though this fungus has existed for millennia, there are still tons of unanswered questions about how it lives both in the desert and in people.

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