Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever), Soil Moisture, and El Nino Southern Oscillation in California and Arizona

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jun 14;19(12):7262. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19127262.


The soil-borne fungal disease coccidioidomycosis (Valley fever) is prevalent across the southwestern United States (US). Previous studies have suggested that the occurrence of this infection is associated with anomalously wet or dry soil moisture states described by the "grow and blow" hypothesis. The growth of coccidioidomycosis is favored by moist conditions both at the surface and in the root zone. A statistical analysis identified two areas in Arizona and central California, with a moderate-to-high number of coccidioidomycosis cases. A Wavelet Transform Coherence (WTC) analysis between El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), coccidioidomycosis cases, surface soil moisture (SSM; 0 to 5 cm) from European Space Agency-Climate Change Initiative (ESA-CCI), and shallow root zone soil moisture (RZSM; 0 to 40 cm depth) from Soil MERGE (SMERGE) was executed for twenty-four CA and AZ counties. In AZ, only SSM was modulated by ENSO. When case values were adjusted for overreporting between 2009 to 2012, a moderate but significant connection between ENSO and cases was observed at a short periodicity (2.1 years). In central CA, SSM, RZSM, and cases all had a significant link to ENSO at longer periodicities (5-to-7 years). This study provides an example of how oceanic-atmospheric teleconnections can impact human health.

Keywords: ENSO; ESA-CCI; SMERGE; Valley fever; coccidioidomycosis; soil moisture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arizona / epidemiology
  • California / epidemiology
  • Coccidioidomycosis* / epidemiology
  • El Nino-Southern Oscillation
  • Humans
  • Mycoses*
  • Soil


  • Soil

Grant support

This research was funded by NASA Climate Indicator and Data Products for Future National Climate Assessments program through award #NNX16AH30G and NSF Geoscience Equipment (Award Number 1636769).