What is Valley Fever and How Is It Treated? Facts About Valley Fever (AKA Coccidioidomycosis)
Coccidioidomycosis is also known as Valley Fever, Cocci, California Fever, San Joaquin Valley Fever, and Desert Rheumatism. It is a fungal disease that comes from a fungus called Coccidioides found in soil and affects the respiratory system. The soil that carries this fungus is found mostly in the southern parts of the United States, like southern California, because the conditions there are favorable for Coccidioides growth.
There are two stages of Coccidioidomycosis-- acute and disseminated.
The difference between the two stages is that acute Coccidioidomycosis is less severe and often clears up on it's own and disseminated Coccidioidomycosis brings more severe symptoms and requires more drastic treatments.
Most people who contract Coccidioidomycosis only ever experience it acutely.
What Are the Symptoms of Coccidioidomycosis?
The symptoms of Coccidioidomycosis can vary greatly, which is part of what makes this disease so dangerous. However, oftentimes, the ailments are similar to other respiratory illnesses and infections so the CDC suggests that doctors who see patients complaining of flu-like symptoms also test for Valley Fever.
Symptoms after exposure usually take 1-3 weeks to appear.
Symptoms are extremely similar to the flu and can include:
- Joint aches
- Cough and chest pain
- Painful rash
Is Coccidioidomycosis Really Dangerous?
In most cases, no.
As with most respiratory illnesses --like the flu-- the severity has many variants. In some cases, after examination, a doctor may not suggest any medical treatment at all if the disease is clearing up on it's own. In more severe cases, Valley Fever becomes disseminated. At this point, the disease has spread to the bloodstream and organs causing more permanent and possibly fatal damage.
What Causes Coccidioidomycosis?
The fungi Coccidioides lives in the soil in hot, dry places where rain is scarce but occurs just enough to breed the fungus. This fungus causes Coccidioidomycosis. When a person breathes in the fungus, they can become infected. Coccidioides is released into the air when the soil it lives in is moved around. Those who farm in areas where Coccidioides breeds are especially prone to infection since they work directly with the soil, stirring it up on a regular basis.
Who's at Risk for Coccidioidomycosis?
Those at highest risk for Valley Fever may have traveled to or are living in the Southwestern parts of The United States, Mexico, or Central or South America, where the disease is present.
Risk-factors for Valley Fever include those with suppressed immune systems (pregnant women and those being treated with chemo), diabetes, and already-present infections such as HIV.
Healthy individuals are also at risk for Valley Fever, however and should not ignore symptoms.
How Do They Test for Coccidioidomycosis?
If your doctor believes that your stage of Valley Fever is in the onset phase (acute), she may administer a blood test, a chest x-ray, or will ask you to cough so they can perform what's called a sputum culture--a test that takes secretion from the lungs and tests it for evidence of the disease.
If your doctor believes that you're in a more severe phase (disseminated) of the illness she may order a biopsy of the bone marrow, lymph nodes, liver or lungs.
Did You Know?
Unlike the flu, Valley Fever is not contagious from person to person. If a friend or family member has been diagnosed with Valley Fever it is not necessary to quarantine or avoid them. The only way to contract Valley Fever is to come in contact with the fungus directly.
How is Coccidioidomycosis Treated?
Acute Coccidioidomycosis is sometimes treated with an anti-fungal medication and rest at home. For most people diagnosed with the infection, this is all the treatment necessary and they'll recover over time.
For those with more severe cases of Coccidioidomycosis, or if the infection has disseminated, treatment may include hospitalization.
The best prevention against Coccidioidomycosis is common sense. Those who work directly with soil--like construction workers and farmers--in the regions affected by the fungus should wear a mask to prevent breathing in the spores while they work. It's also a good idea to wash your clothes and shower after returning home from work where potential exposure has occurred.
While there are still no vaccines available to prevent infection, scientists are working hard at finding a better solution to Coccidioidomycosis prevention.