Valley Fever – Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Valley Fever

Valley Fever. This is currently worrying health experts and they are warning the public about the rapid spread of this fungal infection. However, scientists claim that the rise in global temperature has enabled Valley fever to move outside its typical Southwest range.

The disease is often called “Valley fever” but it is also called “desert rheumatism” in other countries.

GeoHealth reported in 2019 that Valley fever could spread eastward, reaching the Canadian border by 2100 as a result of climate change. This is why the world must be aware of what this fungal infection is all about, how to spot the signs and symptoms, as well as the preventative measures and treatment options.

Valley Fever - Signs

Learn all about this fungal infection by reading this article…

Coccidioidomycosis, the causative agent of Valley Fever, is a fungus that lives both in the soil where it creates mold, and in human bodies. This fungus naturally thrives in dry areas, particularly in the regions of the southwest of the United States and parts of Latin America.

The virus can easily multiply in soil, where it produces airborne, microscopic spores. The spores can be detrimental to human health as they can infect a person’s lungs if they breathe them in. While some people who have the lung infection may not experience any symptoms at all, others may develop a fever, cough, headache, night sweats, and fatigue, similar to that of the flu.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine and associate chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF/ San Francisco General Hospital says that Valley fever typically subsides on its own without the medical intervention needed.

Chronic Coccidioidomycosis, on the other hand, can be much more dangerous. Coccidioidomycosis can turn into a chronic form of pneumonia if the initial infection doesn’t clear up entirely. Immunocompromised individuals are more likely to experience this consequence. When infected, this can lead to meningitis and other central nervous system complications, causing nodules and cavities in the lungs. In addition, arthritis might develop if it affects the bones and joints.

The most serious case is Disseminated Coccidioidomycosis. Gandhi noted that while cases of disseminated disease are rare, they can happen. And pregnant women, people of specific racial or ethnic backgrounds, such as Filipinos or African Americans, and those with severe HIV infection or other immunosuppressed people, are at high risk.

Dr. Emma Harvey, Global Head of Medical Affairs at the clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company F2G explains, “Symptoms depend on the stage of disease and also which organs are affected. It starts as a respiratory disease and can be indistinguishable in symptoms from viral or bacterial pneumonia.”

Dr. Harvey also explains that fatigue, inability to do daily activities, and in the worst afflicted patients, inability to go outside of the house without help, are symptoms in patients with the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that further symptoms include a rash, muscle aches, a cough, and shortness of breath.

Although most people with fungal infections experience very mild symptoms, about 5 percent of those infected may go on to develop a severe complication, like persistent lung infection, and may require antifungal treatment.

Others develop this disease with the effects that spread outside the lungs to affect particularly the skin, central nervous system, as well as the bone and joints. And this type of infection, lead to long-term antifungal issues and infection in the central nervous system. One that is known is called cocci meningitis which is often incurable and can lead to death.

It is possible to be infected with valley fever and not know it until later. A positive skin or blood test is one way to find out; another is if your doctor notices any small regions of persistent infection in your lungs (nodules) on a routine chest X-ray. In most cases, the nodules are harmless, but they can mislead doctors if they are seen on an X-ray.

Once symptoms show up, especially if they are very severe, the disease can go in a lot of different directions. It can take weeks or months to get back to normal. So can being tired and having sore muscles and joints. How bad the condition depends on how much fungal spores you breathe in and how healthy you are in general.

At this time, there is no treatment available for Valley fever. Although many people will eventually recover from the infection, others will experience its effects, like joint infections can linger for years. That is why cocci meningitis is generally regarded to be fatal.

Harvey stressed the importance of continuing antifungal treatment for the rest of a patient’s life. Initial antifungal therapy is usually done with an oral azole or fluconazole, but life-long therapy may be required in case the antifungals are withdrawn or the patients relapse. Amphotericin B intravenous formulations can also be tried in the most complicated cases. Intra-thecal amphotericin is sometimes necessary for cocci meningitis.

Gandhi further explained: “In mild disease (which most often goes undetected), doctors don’t use treatment but in severe infections, they use antifungal therapy like fluconazole (an orally administered anti-fungal) for many months. The concern is that – as the environment heats up we will have more areas that become arid and are prone to harboring the fungus in the soil.”

Since the 1960s, researchers have tried to create a vaccine for Valley fever, but their early attempts in humans have failed. Then recently, a highly potent vaccination has been discovered by scientists at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.

It seems like not only humans are affected by Valley Fever. Now, dog parents are also concerned for their pets.

The efforts to improve the vaccine for use in humans are ongoing. The USDA is expected to authorize its use in dogs by early 2024. And Gandhi explained that dogs, like humans, are also vulnerable to Valley fever. Thankfully, this two-dose vaccine produces an immune response against the fungus and protects canines from developing the disease when exposed.

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