Climate change is already having a significant and costly impact on the world’s oceans, land bodies and species. It also has significant implications for our health. On May 15th, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Kathleen Treseder presented research showing how climate change is increasing the incidence of human disease. As part of the 2019 Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, Professor Treseder discussed her work on Valley Fever, a respiratory disease that is found in the Southwestern United States.
Professor Treseder is a microbiologist and biogeochemist whose research goal is to improve predictions of future trajectories of global climate change by incorporating the contributions of fungi. One of her lab’s projects involves the study of Coccidioides fungi, the causal agent of Valley Fever. Spores of the fungi are very small, and can be disturbed by dry, heavy winds. Mild cases of the disease will resolve on their own, while severe cases can result in hospitalization and potentially death.
During her presentation, Professor Treseder discussed the current trend of escalating cases of Valley Fever, which have increased more than sevenfold since the year 2000. The increase in disease incidence has occurred mainly in the central valley of California. However, new cases have been popping up in Ventura County, and if current trends continue, Professor Treseder’s work suggests that cases of Valley Fever will soon increase in Los Angeles County and Orange County.
To determine how climate change impacts the spread of Valley Fever, Professor Treseder and her team combed through medical records and performed field work throughout the Southwest. They found that Coccidioides spores thrive in hot and dry climates, and predict that the spore may spread faster and farther as more of California becomes hotter and drier.
In addition to her research, Professor Treseder has a history as a science advocate and has leveraged her experience to reach out to local Orange County officials to inform them of her findings and to discuss ways to deal with the impending Valley Fever challenge.