"This is a high priority for the medical community," said Dr. Tom Chiller, a fungal expert with the Centers for Disease Control, told CNBC by phone.
"More people are getting exposed to it, and it's an increasing problem we want to stop," added Chiller.
The fungus that causes valley fever lives in soil in the U.S. desert Southwest and parts of Mexico, Central America and South America. Inhaling the fungus' airborne spores can cause flu-like symptoms that can turn into pneumonia, meningitis or even worse.
Though valley fever is not contagious, cases have been on the rise. Less than 5,000 cases were reported in 1995. That number had risen to more than 20,000 by 2011. And the CDC estimates that some 150,000 cases go undiagnosed annually.