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by Scholten A
(Valley Fever)

Definition

Coccidioidomycosis (also called Valley fever) is a fungal infection. It can affect the lungs. In some people, the infection can be serious and needs treatment.

Causes

Valley fever is caused by a fungus found in the soil of certain areas. When soil with the fungus is disturbed, it gets into the air. From there, it can be inhaled into the lungs.

The disease cannot spread from person to person.

Risk Factors

Valley fever is found in the southwestern and western U.S.. It is also found in parts of Central and South America. The risk is highest for people living, working, or traveling in those areas. Those most at risk are:

  • People exposed to dirt and dust, such as:
    • Farmers
    • Construction workers
    • People in the military
    • Archaeologists

Those at risk of getting severe Valley fever are:

  • People with weak immune systems
  • Elderly people
  • Men
  • Pregnant women, especially in the third trimester
  • People of African or Filipino background

Symptoms

Most people with Valley fever have no symptoms. In those that do, symptoms happen 7 to 21 days after exposure. They may be:

  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling tired or weak—may last a few months
  • Aching joints
  • Skin rash
  • Problems breathing

Sometimes the fungus affects other parts of the body.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, health, and travel history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests—to check for signs of illness
  • Sputum smear or culture—to look for the fungus
  • Biopsy—a sample of tissue is taken and tested, if the diagnosis is unclear
  • Spinal tap and fluid analysis—if there are brain or nerve symptoms
  • Imaging, such as chest x-rays or CT scan—to see if other areas of the body are affected

Treatment

For many, Valley fever goes away on its own. Treatment depends on how severe the infection is. Options may be:

  • Bed rest and fluids—to speed recovery
  • Antifungal medicine—may be prescribed for those with severe illness or risks
  • Surgery—for those with certain long-term effects or severe illness

Prevention

To reduce the risk of Valley fever in high risk areas:

  • Avoid dust, gardening, digging, and yard work.
  • Wear an N95 mask when working in soil or in dusty areas.
  • Use air filtration indoors.
  • Clean wounds after contact with dust or soil.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  https://familydoctor.org 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  https://www.cdc.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

The College of Family Physicians of Canada  http://www.cfpc.ca 

References

About valley fever. Valley Fever Center for Excellence website. Available at http://vfce.arizona.edu/valley-fever-people/about-valley-fever. Accessed March 31, 2021.

Coccidioidomycosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/coccidioidomycosis . Accessed March 31, 2021.

Gabe LM, Malo J, et al. Diagnosis and management of coccidioidomycosis. Clin Chest Med. 2017;38(3):417-433.

Valley fever (coccidioidomycosis) risk & prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/coccidioidomycosis/risk-prevention.html. Accessed March 31, 2021.

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