Valley Fever Center planned as cases spike

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The number of valley fever cases is surging in Arizona, according to University of Arizona College of Medicine's Dr. John Galgiano.

"And that increase started before the big dust storms in July, so it could be the result of just a really dry year,'' Galgiano explained.

Galgiano, the University of Arizona and St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix are building the Valley Fever Center, to be based at St. Joseph's. It will focus on treatment and research of the disease, which infects 100,000 Arizonans annually. Most cases go untreated or misdiagnosed.

"It only takes one spore for a person to become infected," Galgiano said, referring to the fungal spores from the Sonoran Desert that cause valley fever, whose medical name is coccidioidomycosis. Infection often causes pneumonia.

The man originally behind the new Valley Fever Center was Jim Meenaghan of Paradise Valley. The retired businessman fell ill with valley fever in 2009. His temperature shot up to 104 degrees, and it kept him in bed for nine months.

"I was just out of commission," Meenaghan said. "With that amount of time on my hands, I started looking into what was being done about valley fever."

His search led him to Galgiano and they worked with other parties to create the Valley Fever Center, which will open at St. Joe's in January.  They'll continue a fundraising campaign for the center through the fall.