Valley fever is medically known as Coccidioidomycosis, but it has many other popular names such as: California disease, Desert rheumatism, and San Joaquin valley fever. Valley fever is a fungal disease caused by Coccidioides immitis or Coccidioides. Posadasii, a pathogenic fungi that reside can be found in certain parts of the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and a few other areas in the Western Hemisphere. Valley fever is endemic disease in certain parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and northwestern Mexico.
Nationally, Valley Fever is uncommon and considered an orphan disease, but the incidence varies significantly across different states. For example, in California from 2000 to 2007, there were 16,970 reported cases and 752 deaths, with the highest incidence in the San Joaquin Valley.
Causes of valley fever
Coccidioides immitis or Coccidioides posadasii are fungi that live in alkaline desert soils. The fungi prefer environments with mild winters and arid summers. The fungi are dormant during the dry spells and develop as a mold with long filaments that break off into airborne spores when the soil is disturbed. These fungi can be moved into the air by anything that disrupts the soil: farming, construction, earthquake and wind. The spores are very small and they can be carried by wind to remote distances. The highly contagious fungi can then be breathed into the lungs and cause valley fever.
People who have jobs that expose them to dust are at the higher risk. Professions such as agricultural workers, ranchers, archeologists, and military personnel, are considered especially risky. However, it is estimated that up to half the people living in areas where valley fever is common have been infected at some point in their life. People with compromised immune system are at the higher risk of serious complications, including disseminated disease. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable during the third trimester and right after the delivery. Patients with diabetes are also at higher risk of possible complications.
Symptoms of valley fever
A great majority of people infected with valley fever never show any of the symptoms. It is estimated that about two thirds of infected population never even gets a treatment. The disease is usually mild, with flu-like symptoms and rashes. The most common symptoms are: fatigue, cough, chest pain, fever, rash, headache and joint aches. Serious complications occur in immune deficient patients, where the fungus spreads throughout the body. These complications include severe pneumonia, lung nodules, and disseminated disease.
The disease doesn’t affect only humans but also cattle, deer, dogs, elk, fish, mules, livestock, apes, kangaroos, wallabies, tigers, bears, badgers, otters and marine mammals.
As already mentioned, most of the people with valley fever don’t even need a treatment. Taking a proper rest is all that it takes to conquer the infection. If the symptoms don’t improve, doctors may prescribe antifungal medications to control the fungus. Sometimes the disease can be reactivated, or the person can become re-infected, if the immune system is significantly weakened.