Valley fever, scientifically known as coccidioidomycosis and also termed “San Joaquin Valley fever” or “desert rheumatism,” is an infection triggered by the fungus Coccidioides. Typically associated with lung infection, it can advance to other body parts in severe instances, termed “disseminated coccidioidomycosis.”
The fungus thrives in the soil of specific regions in the southwestern United States, parts of Mexico, Central, South America, and, more recently, south-central Washington. Inhalation of its microscopic spores in these areas leads to Valley fever.
Most exposed individuals remain asymptomatic, while some experience mild symptoms that usually resolve within weeks. However, severe cases may necessitate antifungal treatment, particularly for high-risk groups. Prevention in these endemic areas involves minimizing exposure to airborne dust carrying Coccidioides.
Valley Fever Symptoms
Symptoms, such as fatigue, cough, fever, and rash, generally surface one to three weeks after inhaling the fungal spores. The duration of symptoms typically spans a few weeks to months, although severe infections may last longer.
Severe Cases and Risk Groups
Around 5 to 10% of Valley fever cases develop serious lung issues, while a minute percentage spreads the infection to other body parts like the central nervous system, skin, or bones.
High-risk groups, including individuals with weakened immune systems, diabetes, pregnant women, or those of Black or Filipino descent, face an elevated risk of severe Valley fever.
Contagion and Pet Risk
Valley fever isn’t transmissible between individuals or between humans and animals, except for rare instances where wound infections or organ transplants may spread the infection.
Pets, especially dogs, can contract Valley fever similarly to humans, exhibiting symptoms like coughing and weight loss. Consultation with a veterinarian is advised if concerned about a pet’s risk or symptoms.
Workplace Exposure and Prevention
In the event of suspected workplace exposure, contacting relevant occupational or health departments is crucial. However, there’s no evidence that antifungal medication prevents illness post-exposure. Prevention primarily involves avoiding dusty environments and employing protective measures like N95 respirators.
No Current Vaccine Available
Presently, there’s no vaccine against Valley fever, although ongoing research aims to develop one. Previous vaccine attempts had limited success due to inadequate protection and side effects.
Treatment and Recovery
For most, Valley fever resolves without treatment. However, antifungal medication is prescribed for severe cases or higher-risk individuals. Prolonged treatment may be necessary for severe lung or systemic infections, including meningitis cases.
Life After Valley Fever
Most individuals recover fully, though a few may experience prolonged lung infections or rare cases of nervous system damage. Valley fever isn’t contagious, permitting infected individuals to resume regular activities.