The incidence of valley fever (VF; Coccidioidomycosis) — a potentially fatal disease resulting from inhalation of soil-dwelling fungi coccidioides immitis and coccidioides posadasii — is increasing in the southwestern United States, including the San Joaquin Valley (SJV).
Hotspots of infection suggest geographically variable risk, but the occurrence of Coccidioides spp. in soils and on soil particles in air is poorly known. Researchers aim to develop capacity to map risk factors linking environmental health with the incidence of this infectious disease using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Small UAVs (≤25 kg take-off weight) can carry equipment designed to sample air, water and soil, and capture remarkably high resolution thermal, infrared, and visible imagery and video; these data can be used to map land use, vegetation, construction, water, and are especially useful for precision mapping of human-environment interactions in the SJV.
Professors Michael Beman, YangQuan Chen and Michael Dawson are exploring development of UAVs for acquiring large numbers of soil and air samples at high spatial and temporal resolution over large and/or inaccessible areas to couple with high-throughput ‘next generation’ identification of coccidioides population genetic variation.
Although conceptualized especially for the detection of airborne infectious organisms and specifically coccidioides spp., an example key health issue in the SJV, autonomous and cost-efficient sampling ability will be broadly applicable to a range of air quality issues.