Washington State Department of Health officials continue to investigate the source of a fungus that when inhaled can make people ill.

The Valley Fever Fungus, known medically as Coccidiodes, comes from a spore typically found in the semi-arid regions of CA, AZ and Central and South America.   It lives in the soil, and it's spores can be breathed in when digging or other movements disturb the earth.

Previously, it had not been detected as far North as Washington state, but new information from the Health Department reveals that several people were treated in 2010 and 2011 for the illness in Walla Walla, Benton and Franklin Counties.

According to the Department of Health:

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with colleagues at Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff, Arizona, recently developed the first method to test soil samples for the fungus. Test results showed that the soil samples were positive for the Valley Fever fungus, and that these cultures genetically matched samples of the fungus obtained from one of the patients. This confirmed that the patients were exposed in Washington.

These findings are important because the Valley Fever fungus has never before been found in Washington soil. However, DNA analysis suggests that the fungus has been here for a while."

They emphasize the chance of contracting the fever is very low.  It can also affect animals, so they urge vets to be on the lookout for potential symptoms.  HOWEVER,   the illness is generally not considered life-threatening.   More from the Department of Health.

"Most people exposed to the Valley Fever fungus don’t become ill, but some develop a mild flu-like illness with fever, cough, headache, and body aches or pneumonia. Less commonly, people can develop more severe infections including meningitis, bone or joint infections, skin lesions, or chronic pneumonia. Health care providers can test and treat patients with antifungal medications, though mild illnesses often get better without any treatment. The disease is not spread from person-to-person." (Bold lettering added for emphasis).