What is Valley Fever?
Valley fever is a disease caused by fungal infection most specifically that of Coccidioides immitis fungi. It is medically termed as Coccidoidomycosis after the name of the fungi which cause the disease although it has several names that are commonly used such as San Joaquin fever, California fever and Desert fever.
The fungi C. immitis are commonly found in soil and is endemic to New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Arizona, North Western Mexico and California. The fungus thrives in semiarid climates and with hot summers and areas of soil with alkaline content. It was during the 1890s when the disease caused by C. immitis was first noted in Argentina by Wernicke and Posadas. The pathogen causing the disease during that time resembled protozoa known as coccidia until it was later learned by researchers during the year 1896 to 1900 that the pathogen was actually a fungus that the term “mycosis” was added to its name coccidia to distinguish it as fungal disease and not protozoan.
People from all age groups can get affected with Valley fever although the prevalence is more common in older boys and men due to occupational exposure. The disease however, is endemic in areas of Arizona and California yet racial predilection has not been noted although the risk for progression to pulmonary disease from primary coccidioidomycosis is higher in Filipinos, blacks and other Asian countries.
Valley Fever Symptoms
Incubation period of fungal infection from C. immitis usually takes about 10 to 15 days with clinical manifestation of the disease that usually lasts from 7 to 30 days. The infection may not have symptoms at all that infected individual may not seek medical attention while those with mild form of Valley fever may show significant symptoms such as:
- Fever and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Joint pains
- Night sweat
- Development of red rash that usually appears on lower legs
Coccidioidomycosis in its initial stage that does not resolve completely may advance to chronic pneumonia with symptoms that may include:
- Fever of low-grade
- Weight loss
- Cough with blood tinged sputum
- Chest pain
- Lungs develop a palpable nodule
The disease of coccidioidomycosis may develop to its severe form when the infection has disseminated to other parts of the body aside from the lungs. The infection may spread to areas of the skin, liver, brain, brain meninges and heart. The clinical manifestation depends on the areas infected such as:
- Lesions in the spine, other areas of the bones and skull which are painful
- Painful swelling of the knee and ankle joints
- Skin ulceration or lesion that is painful
- Swelling of the brain meninges which is rather a serious complication of Valley fever
Valley Fever Causes
Valley fever is caused by either of the two types of fungi known as Coccidioides immitis and Coccidioides posadasii. These two types of fungi have similar identity although genetically and epidemiologically distinct from one another. Both types thrive in arid desert soils and have compounded life cycle. They both basically grow as molds in the soil with long filaments that shatter airborne spores when their soil habitat is disturbed.
There are risk factors considered for an individual or group of people to harbor valley fever from fungal infection and these include:
- Age advancement where older people are considered potentially at risk for developing Valley fever which may be due to their immune system that is deemed less healthy
- Occupational exposures especially those working on the fields and continuously exposed to dust such working on ranch, construction and also military personnel
- Individuals with weak immune system are potentially at risk for the disease and its complications
- Pregnant women on their third trimester are more prone for coccidioidomycosis including babies right after birth
Valley Fever Treatment
Majority of coccidioidomycosis patients are asymptomatic and may not require medical attention as the disease is self-limited and resolves on its own within a few months without the need for treatment. Although medical intervention may not be required, it is necessary to have Valley fever carefully monitored by physicians. The treatment however is more on bed rest with increased fluid intake and if symptoms persist and do not resolve, doctors may recommend treatment with antifungal medication such as fluconazole, ketoconazole and itraconazole. Amphotericin B is given intravenously for patient with serious case of coccidioidomycosis.
Valley Fever Pictures
Is Valley Fever Contagious?
Valley fever cannot be passed on from person to person although the disease is contagious when the airborne spores are directly inhaled upon exposure to disturbed and contaminated soil in areas endemic to Valley fever. The occurrence of Valley fever is noted to be in outbreaks and endemic in areas with arid soil especially during the months of summer or in the early winter. Endospores breathed in the lungs are release by large spherules and continue infecting the lungs and other parts of the body.