Researchers studying link between monsoon dust storms and disease

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona researcher is looking into the health impacts of dust storms.
The monsoon storms send huge walls of dust across the landscape, sometimes snarling traffic and knocking out power.
William Sprigg is a research professor in the University of Arizona's Institute of Atmospheric Physics. He's working on ways to predict the storms and notes that the potential health problems go beyond respiratory ailments.
Sprigg says dust storms carry a noxious mix of fungi, heavy metals from pollutants, chemicals and bacteria that could lead to cardiovascular and eye disease, and other illnesses.

Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital report cases of the fungal infection known as Valley Fever spreading beyond the lungs.

"We had one gentleman with it in his scapula, along with other patients with it in their bones," said Dr. Priya  Radhakrishnan, Chief of Internal Medicine at St. Joe's.

Hospitals reported a 35% to 40% spike in cases of Valley Fever last year.

"With all the changes in weather we've seen recently, I'd suspect there's some association between clouds of spores in the air and the disease," said Dr. Radhakrishnan.