Coccidioidomycosis, commonly called valley fever, is a fungal infection of the lungs that can cause very serious problems. The fungus is found in the soil—most commonly in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. The fungus can also affect other parts of the body besides the lungs, but it is then called disseminated valley fever.
Valley fever is caused by breathing the fungus into the lungs. The fungus lives in the soil but is transported through the air and into the lungs, where it infects people. When soil that contains the fungus is disturbed, spores are released into the air.
The disease cannot be transmitted from person to person.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Anyone is susceptible to valley fever, but certain people are at an increased risk:
- Construction workers
- People in the military
- People with weakened immune systems (mostly for disseminated valley fever)
- Elderly people
- Women in the third trimester of pregnancy
- People who work with or who are frequently exposed to soil
Some people have no symptoms of valley fever. Others have:
- Flu-like symptoms that lasts for weeks or a month
- Fatigue that lasts longer than a few weeks
- Chest pain
- Night sweats
- Aching in the joints
- Shortness of breath
- Rash that consists of painful red bumps
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include the following:
- Blood tests to look for the presence of antibodies to defend against the fungus
- Sputum smear or culture to look for the presence of the fungus in the sputum (mucus or phlegm that is coughed up)
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Some patients, especially those with already weakened immune systems, may be prescribed an antifungal medication. Drugs include fluconazole, itraconazole, or amphotericin B. These medications can only help manage the fungus, but do not kill it. A recurrence of valley fever can occur.
Bed Rest and Fluids
Many patients with valley fever don’t require treatment with medications, and the infection will clear up on its own. Bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids will speed recovery.
There is no completely effective way to prevent being infected with valley fever. Take extra precautions in areas where the infection is most common and during months when the chance of infection is increased.
To help reduce your chances of getting valley fever, take the following steps:
When working outside in the soil, especially in areas where the fungus is common, you should:
- Always wear a mask.
- Wet down the soil before disturbing it to reduce the spores in the air.
- Keep doors and windows tightly closed in areas where the fungus is common.
- Head indoors during a dust storm.
Familydoctor.org, American Academy of Family Physicians
Valley Fever Connections
Canadian Health Network
Environmental mediation of valley fever. University of Arizona Tucson website. Available at: http://www.casa.arizona.edu/~peter/valleyfever/web/index.html . Accessed April 19, 2007.
Valley fever. Valley Fever Connections website. Available at: http://www.valley-fever.org/ . Accessed April 19, 2007.
Valley fever in humans. Valley Fever Center for Excellence website. Available at: http://www.vfce.arizona.edu/ . Accessed April 19, 2007.
Last reviewed November 2008 by ]]>David L. Horn, MD, FACP]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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