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Accepted Paper:

Biosocial neglect: The study of Valley Fever  
Nancy Burke (University of California, Merced)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores biosocial interfaces in incidence, severity, and death due to Valley Fever; the ecological, physiological, and immunological mechanisms and the social, racial and regional stratifications that serve as their counterparts.

Paper long abstract:

Coccidioidomycosis, colloquially referred to as Valley Fever, affects residents in the southwestern United States, northern Mexico and South America. An estimated 150,000 people in the US become infected annually via inhalation of spores from the soil-dwelling fungi. This can lead to chronic lung infection, meningitis, or death. Southwestern states are currently experiencing among the highest incidence rates of coccidioidomycosis ever recorded. Large construction projects, such as the creation of solar farms, and earthquakes that disturb the soil increase risk of infection. While most cases resolve spontaneously, up to 40% are severe enough to require antifungal treatment and many spread beyond the lungs.

Scientists argue that critical gaps in understanding have hindered public health response to Valley Fever, including how dust, pathogen, and individual risk factors interact to determine disease incidence, as well as how environmental factors influence the distribution of the pathogen and dust. No new treatments for coccidioidomycosis have been approved in the United States in nearly 40 years; the number of investigators studying the disease is very small and there is little pharmaceutical company interest in developing treatments. The fact that the areas most affected in California are also the poorest communities in the state, and home to the state’s prisons, may also have influenced the lack of attention to this devastating disease. In this paper I draw upon interviews with scientists who study the disease to explore biosocial interfaces; the ecological, physiological, and immunological mechanisms and the social, racial and regional stratifications that serve as their counterparts.

Panel P108
Biosocial approaches to health and environment
  Session 1