The history of weaponized Valley Fever stretches back decades including simulated terrorist attacks and consideration of the disease’s effects against minorities for use as a race-specific biological weapon. Legislation to protect the U.S. only started after renewed interest in biological warfare in the wake of the 1995 sarin gas attack on Japanese subways. At that time the United States evaluated its own security for biological weapons and passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In order to determine which biological agents and toxins were considered serious enough for inclusion in the legislation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services compiled a list of dangerous toxins and organisms known as select agents.
The list primarily has agents that are serious threats to human life, but the USDA also added organisms and toxins that can devastate animals and agriculture. The multi-agency select agent list included ghastly illness and toxins such as the SARS-associated corona virus, the H5N1 “bird flu” virus, ricin, Ebola, and Anthrax. Along with these select agents, the list also included Coccidioides which is the parasitic fungal species that causes Valley Fever.
The Select Agent web site https://www.selectagents.gov/ declares its purpose: “The Federal Select Agent Program oversees the possession, use and transfer of biological select agents and toxins, which have the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health or to animal or plant products.”
In accordance with the 1996 law, anyone possessing, using, transferring, or receiving any of the select agents must notify the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, or is otherwise committing a federal crime. To culture Coccidioides safely in a laboratory setting, one must adhere to Biosafety Level 3 regulations, which is only one step below the required handling of Ebola, the infamously dangerous hemorrhagic fever virus. Visitors do not wear Biosafety Level 3 hazard suits when they take vacations in Arizona, California, and other areas where the Coccidioides fungal organism occurs naturally, but laboratories have extensive rules to protect their scientists.