What Is Valley Fever?

By james
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No one likes having a fever and a persistent cough. If you are suffering from unpleasant respiratory symptoms, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. When your doctor knows exactly what’s causing the problem, he or she is more likely to be able to treat it correctly. Without a clear diagnosis, any treatment you receive is simply placating the symptoms and may not be getting to the actual root of the problem.

Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, presents similar symptoms to many other respiratory illnesses. The cough that you initially think is just a cold could be a symptom of a more serious issue. Here are ten specific things you should know about valley fever.

1. What Is Valley Fever?

Valley fever is a fungal infection. At its initial onset, the illness seems like a bad cold. You feel congested and tend to cough a lot, and you will likely run a fever. In mild cases, symptoms go away after a week or two. If this is how your case progresses, you may never know you had valley fever.

Sometimes, however, valley fever progresses into a more dangerous version. Most people diagnosed with this infection have a more persistent illness that won’t go away on its own. When nothing they try to get rid of it seems to work, they go to the doctor.

Valley Fever

2. What Causes Valley Fever?

There are two strains of coccidioides fungi that lead to valley fever. These fungi are most commonly found in the southwest United States, particularly in Arizona and southern California, although it’s possible that they can thrive anywhere in the western United States. They are also prevalent in Mexico and Central America.

People catch valley fever by inhaling coccidioides spores. These spores live in the soil and are stirred up and made airborne by activities such as farming or construction. The illness is not communicable from person to person.

3. Who Has the Highest Risk for Valley Fever?

Anyone who is exposed to the spores of these fungi is at risk. Those who work in farming, construction, archeology and other jobs that encounter a lot of dust are more likely to come in contact with coccidioides. As with most respiratory illnesses, those with weakened immune systems, including those with HIV/AIDS, are particularly vulnerable to this infection.

Another population that is at a higher risk of developing serious complications are women in the late stages of pregnancy or those who have just given birth. The risk of a more severe illness also seems to increase with age and is more prevalent in those of Filipino or African descent.

Valley Fever

4. What Are the Symptoms of a Mild Case?

Most cases of valley fever are acute cases. This is the mildest form of the illness, but there is a wide range of experience under what is considered a mild presentation. Some people are asymptomatic, while others experience acute coccidioidomycosis with severe flu-like symptoms.

The usual symptoms are fever, chills, night sweats, cough, headache, fatigue and joint pain. These are often accompanied by a red rash that may turn brown later. The rash typically appears on the lower legs but can also sometimes be found on the back or chest.

5. What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Valley Fever?

Some people may have a hard time getting rid of valley fever. The infection may persist past the acute stage if a person is exposed to a high concentration of spores or for those who are immunocompromised.

Chronic coccidioidomycosis is characterized by a persistence of severe symptoms, most notably fatigue and joint pain. If you can’t get rid of valley fever, you may also develop nodules in your lungs. Pneumonia, characterized by more severe symptoms, including bloody sputum when you cough, may also develop.

Valley Fever

6. What Happens When Valley Fever Spreads from the Lungs to Other Organs?

The most dangerous form of valley fever happens when it disseminates from the lungs to other organs. It may travel to your liver, heart or bones. It can also invade your brain and other parts of your nervous system.

Advanced valley fever causes increased pain in the joints. You may develop lesions on the skin or on your skull or other bones. The heart can become inflamed, and urinary tract infections become more common. The risk of meningitis also increases as the illness attacks the membranes protecting your spinal cord.

7. What Complications Can Occur?

Even if you catch coccidioidomycosis in its early stages, you may still develop severe symptoms or complications, particularly if you are part of one of the high-risk groups. If you have traveled to an area where this fungus is prevalent and you develop symptoms of valley fever, don’t ignore them.

If the illness progresses, you can develop severe pneumonia that can permanently damage your respiratory system. Nodules in the lung are usually harmless, but they can rupture, causing extensive damage that may take surgery to correct. Significant dissemination can be fatal if it causes organs to fail.

Valley Fever

8. How Is Valley Fever Diagnosed?

An internet search for flu-like symptoms that won’t go away can bring you to several conclusions, only one of which is valley fever. When you go to your doctor’s appointment, make sure that you mention that you have been to an area where the fungus lives so that he or she knows to test you for coccidioidomycosis.

When faced with the possibility of valley fever, doctors will typically order a chest x-ray to see if nodules are present in the lungs. They may also perform a blood test or take cultures from the skin rash or sputum caused by the illness.

9. How Is Valley Fever Treated?

For acute or chronic symptoms that are not life-threatening, doctors usually suggest the same treatment they do for a cold or flu: Drink a lot of fluids and get plenty of rest. Most of the time, the illness will subside with this type of care.

In severe cases, antifungal medications may be used. Because these medications often have serious side effects, such as nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal effects, they are usually considered a last resort.

10. How Do You Prevent Valley Fever?

The most obvious way to prevent valley fever is to avoid the area where the fungus thrives, but that isn’t practical for many people. If you live in or visit the area, particularly during the summer months, take precautions when you are outside. Wear a face mask, wet the ground before digging, avoid going out when dust count is high, and make sure you keep dust out of your home.

Many people who get coccidioidomycosis develop an immunity to it, but for some people, the fungus can be reactivated later. Others become more susceptible to it, especially if their immune system is compromised. Protection against contact with spores in the first place is the best prevention method.

Valley Fever

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