Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are calling for an increased focus on a potentially deadly disease.

Republican Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona and Kevin McCarthy of California will co-chair the Valley Fever Task Force. It will consist of lawmakers from Arizona, California and Texas, states where Valley Fever is most prevalent.

The group will work on new public education efforts and treatments, with a goal of eventually finding a cure.

PHOTO: Arizona Department of Health Services
Fungal spores that carry Valley Fever live in desert soil until high winds cause them to go airborne. They can travel great distances as part of dust storms, like this one shown approaching downtown Phoenix in 2011.

Schweikert, in a press release, said the task force will hold congressional hearings on the disease later this year, and will invite the scientific and medical communities to participate.

Dr. Neil Ampel, a medicine professor at the UA's Valley Fever Center for Excellence, said he welcomes Washington’s interest in disease.

“There are more cases of symptomatic Valley Fever in this country than there are of West Nile," Ampel said. "I’m glad it’s getting political attention.”

Sixty percent of all Valley Fever cases occur in Arizona. In 2011, 16,000 cases were reported in the state.

Ampel added that he’d already heard that the task force was interested in putting more resources into research to understand the nature of the disease.

Valley Fever afflicts the respiratory system and is caused by a fungus that lives in dry desert soils. The spores become airborne in high winds and can travel long distances in dust storms. They're also stirred up when farming and construction disturbs desert top soils.

According to Arizona health officials, sixty percent of Valley Fever cases produce no symptoms or only mild, flu-like symptoms. Common indicators include chest pain, cough, fever and fatigue; and some cases develop a measles-like rash. Chronic Valley Fever can resemble tuberculosis and be deadly in people with weakened immune systems.

More resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Valley Fever information site

Arizona Department of Health Services Valley Fever site