Environmental factors affecting ecological niche of Coccidioides species and spatial dynamics of valley fever in the United States.


Coccidioidomycosis is an understudied infectious disease acquired by inhaling fungal spores of Coccidioides species. While historically connected to the southwestern United States, the endemic region for this disease is not well defined. This study's objective was to estimate the impact of climate, soil, elevation and land cover on the Coccidioides species' ecological niche. This research used maximum entropy ecological niche modeling based on disease case data from 2015 to 2016. Results found mean temperature of the driest quarter, and barren, shrub, and cultivated land covers influential in characterizing the niche. In addition to hotspots in central California and Arizona, the Columbia Plateau ecoregion of Washington and Oregon showed more favorable conditions for fungus presence than surrounding areas. The identification of influential spatial drivers will assist in future modeling efforts, and the potential distribution map generated may aid public health officials in watching for potential hotspots, assessing vulnerability, and refining endemicity.