⅔ of valley fever infections in the U.S. come from right here in Arizona. Now a local woman who has valley fever is helping others who are struggling with the illness.
Pat White developed symptoms of valley fever eight years ago.
"I got infected, but didn't know.. it hit me pretty fast," she said. "Continued to get more ill and more ill and then the sweats hit."
Doctors could not figure out what was wrong until she saw a lung specialist. For the first few years, she slept all the time -- literally!
"The first year infected, I slept 23 hours a day for one year," she said. "For the following five.. five and a half years, I slept 18 hours a day during that time."
She spent her waking hours studying how the disease infects people.
Fungal spores in the dirt became airborne. Those invisible spores usually infect the lungs. People can get valley fever by digging and gardening, but not always.
Pat explains how she got the illness:
"I had the audacity to breathe. That's all I did. That's it. Just breathe."
Pat's mother was misdiagnosed and died from the disease. Her sister also suffers from it, so Pat started a support group to help out valley fever patients.
"I have gone to every conference, wherever the doctors treat and research valley fever, I am there."
Pat is now an activist, spreading the word by lecturing around Arizona and other states.
"I've got about 500 people that I've worked with and helped find doctors.. more than anything, it's to explain the disease to them."
There is no cure for valley fever and no vaccine on the horizon yet.
Doctors say you're more susceptible to contracting valley fever if you have asthma, the HIV virus or you've had an organ transplant.
About 40 percent of people infected show almost no symptoms.
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