Valley fever is caused by a fungus called Coccidioides immitis that is usually found in the soil of southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and in parts of Central and South America. This disease is also known as Coccidioidomycosis, San Joaquin valley fever, California valley fever, or desert fever. Inhalation of soil particles containing the spores of this fungus causes this condition. These spores spread in the air when the soil is disturbed. This can happen during natural calamities, like earthquakes, during construction work, or farming activities. Hence, construction workers and farmers are more prone to valley fever, which is not contagious. Usually, the condition affects the lungs, but can also spread to other parts of the body.
This condition can be classified into three forms - acute, chronic, and disseminated. Acute valley fever is characterized with mild or no symptoms. Flu-like symptoms appear after two to three weeks of exposure, and they include fever, headache, chills, weakness, chest pain, rashes, and joint pain. If the infected person does not develop any symptom, the disease can be diagnosed only through a skin or blood test. A routine X-ray can detect presence of nodules in the lungs. If the infected person develops severe symptoms, at least six months of treatment is needed for recovery.
Chronic valley fever is like chronic pneumonia. If the initial infection is not treated properly, occasional recurrence is possible. Usually, such recurrence occurs in diabetic people, and those with a weak immune system. The symptoms include fever, cough, sputum with tinges of blood, cough, and nodules in the lungs. Those who fail to recover from acute valley fever may also develop the chronic variant.
Disseminated valley fever is the spread of infection from lungs to other parts, like the skin, bones, liver, brain, heart, and the spinal cord. It produces symptoms, like skin lesions, nodules, swollen joints, painful lesions in the skull, bones and spine, and meningitis.
The primary risk factor is exposure to dust and soil of those areas, where valley fever is common. People living in that area, those who travel through the place, agricultural workers, ranchers, archeologists, military personnel on field exercises, workers at construction sites and roads, etc., are prone to this disease. Pregnant women, elderly people, HIV patients, diabetics, chain smokers, and those with a weak immune system, are more susceptible than others. The Filipinos, Hispanics, people of African descent, and Asians are more likely to be infected, than Caucasians. It is also found that other than humans, dogs, cattle, livestock, apes, monkeys, kangaroos, some wild animals, and marine mammals, may also get infected by Coccidioides immitis.
Acute valley fever does not require any treatment. It is like common flu, and can be relieved with complete bed rest and intake of lots of fluids. If the symptoms do not subside or become severe, antifungal medication is prescribed. If the condition of the patient is serious, then intravenous antifungal drugs are used. At present, there is no vaccination available to cure valley fever.
Some effective measures can be taken to prevent valley fever. You can wear a mask and protect yourself from inhaling the dust. Stay indoors and close the doors, windows, and ventilators, during stormy weather. Wet the soil before digging, as a precautionary measure. The last and most important thing is to consult a physician as soon as the symptoms appear.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.