Valley fever is a lung infection, and the medical name for it is Coccidioidomycosis or Cocci. It is caused due to a soil-dwelling, yeast-like fungus called Coccidioides immitis. The disease is normally seen in Southwestern US, parts of Central and South America, and Mexico. Valley fever is caused by a fungus that produces spores, which become airborne when the soil is disturbed by construction, natural disasters, wind, or agricultural activities. The infection gets transmitted when these spores are inhaled into the lungs. Sometimes, the infection spreads to other parts of the body such as skin and brain, and is known as disseminated Valley fever. This disease is not contagious from person to person, and at times, is known to afflict even animals like dogs, horses, cattle and llamas.
Valley Fever - Risk Groups
People of Asian and African-American descent, elderly persons, people with weakened immune system and pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy are the risk groups of this disease. Generally, Valley fever affects the people of certain professions, who are exposed to dust and soil, including:
- Military personnel
- Construction workers
Valley Fever - Symptoms
Up to 60% cases of Valley fever do not show any symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms of flu may occur and last for up to a month. In case, no proper medication is provided, it may lead to meningitis, pneumonia, and may even cause death. Normally, symptoms are seen after 1 to 3 weeks of infection, and the most common of these include:
- Chest pain/Intense pressure
- Cough (can be chronic and severe)
- Coughing up blood
- Backache and Headache
- Flu-like symptoms
- Night sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Leg/ankle/foot swelling
- Red, spotty rash on lower legs and sometimes, on chest, arms and back
Valley Fever - Diagnosis and Treatment
Presently, as there is no vaccine or prevention for Valley fever, there has been noted a rise in the cases of valley fever to approximately 100,000 people a year. However, immunity build up within the body helps people fight the disease. Once the fungus is diagnosed, it can be treated with anti-fungal medicines.
If Valley fever is left untreated for a long period of time, it spreads to other areas of the body like lymph nodes, bones, skin and other organs; and leads to infection of the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis. People with weak immune systems are at high risk of the disease spreading to other parts of the body. Regular X-rays and blood tests are done for several months to ensure that the infection has been treated and doesn't reoccur.
A complete physical examination may disclose few symptoms common to Valley fever. Also, the infection can be diagnosed through blood tests and chest X-rays. Sometimes, surgery is required if the lung or bone tissue is damaged by the fungus. In severe cases, it may take six months to a year to fully recover from this infection.
To quote a popular saying, 'Prevention is better than cure''; the best way to prevent Valley fever is by avoiding dusty environments and activities that expose one to dust.