Valley Fever (Coccidiodomycosis, California valley fever or “San Joaquin Fever”) is a serious fungal disease caused by dimorphic soil fungus or grows as a mold, with long filaments that break off into airborne spores. Similar, yeast or mildew, lives in the soil. When tiny seeds or spores, become wind-born, and inhaled into the lungs, were the infection starts. Clinically the disease is similar to tuberculosis. Valley Fever was discovered more than a century ago. In construction and agricultural areas are common for spores to travel (Spores are extremely small and can be carried hundreds of miles by wind) and be inhaled. In the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America, where temperatures are high and soils conditions are dry, conditions are perfect causing valley fever. Also, when farmers, construction workers, military personal, archaeologists and anyone disturbing the soil, under these conditions are likely to get valley fever. During the 1990s, in California and Arizona, the cases of valley fever increased drastically, because of climate change, population growth, building boom, and more people having compromised immune system related advanced AIDS. Those living in desert southwest have a higher chance of getting the infection. Each year, approximately 100,000 new cases of valley fever reported of which 80 percent, occur in Arizona. The disease cannot be contracted from person to person or from animals. In States where valley fever is perceptible, dogs, horses, cattle, bats, snakes, coyotes and most other animals are susceptible to the disease. Also, cats can contract this disease by dust entering in and around windows and doors during storms. Especially, during summer months, chance of infection is highest. Normally, valley fever peaks in June through August and October through November.
Approximately sixty percent of those contracting valley fever will have no symptoms. Others will develop flu-like symptoms (Start within one to four weeks after exposure) that can last for a month and tiredness, lasting longer than a few weeks. Also, symptoms include chest pain, fever, and coughing. Sometimes people develop red bumps on their skin. Less then one percent of those infected, develop the disease that spreads to the outside of the lungs to the brain, and causing meningitis (Inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord). About five percent of those infected develop nodules on the lungs, which might appear as lung cancer on a chest x-ray. Those infected with this disease can develop severe pneumonia, and less then one percent of people will die. Pregnant women in the third trimester or after birth and those with weak immune systems are more likely to contract valley fever. African Americans, Filipinos and Hispanics are more susceptible to valley fever. Older adults having weaker immune system or have other medical conditions, likely to contract valley fever when exposed. Tourists that have visited States known to have valley fever such as Arizona, may develop symptoms, and need to consult a physician Especially, tourists using bikes or four – wheel recreational vehicles in dusty terrain areas. Confirmation of valley fever finding Coccidiodes spherules in infected tissue, blood (tests) and body secretions. Sometimes tests are shown to be negative during the early phase of the infection, and need to be repeated three to four weeks later.
Studies have shown, after natural disasters or severe weather conditions, increase the number of valley fever cases. In the 1990s, when California had severe drought, and dust released by the January 1995 earthquake in Northridge, increased number of those suffering from valley fever. Arizona’s dry weather condition, started in 2006, contributes a record number of valley fever cases. Normally during the winter months, spores are kept in the ground by winter rain. However, the first season (2006) had very little rain, so more spores become airborne. Between January to April 2006, 305 cases of the infection were reported in Arizona. That’s four times more than average number of cases.
Treatment for valley fever includes plenty of bed rest and taking fluids, similar approach for colds and flu. If the symptoms don’t improve or become worse recommended taking fungus-killing medicines or anti-fungal medication. These medications include drugs such as fluconazole (Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in August 2004) and itraconazole. Common side effects, taking any one of these drugs include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Once infected and treated, bestows a lifelong immunity. When dogs are infected by valley fever, may experience seizures or other signs of neurological disease. Treatment may include administering Nizoral (Ketoconazole), which may take up to six months for complete recovery. Side effects from the medication include vomiting, nausea, and lightening of the coat of the dog. Also, pet multivitamin supplement is recommended, while taking ketoconazole. Worst case scenario, when the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) totally involved, requiring frequent lifetime treatment, with medication to keep the symptoms from recurring. Cats are more perceptible for valley fever, and may experience weight loss, and skin ulcerations that don’t heal. Diagnosis determined by performing a biopsy on the skin lesions. Reported in April 2006, The BIOS Institute at The University of Arizona received Orphan Drug Status from the US Food and Drug Administration, for the drug nikkomycin z, treatment for valley fever. During experimental studies, the drug has been shown to kill the fungus causing this disease. Valley Fever is well known to cause relapse in both human and dogs.
Preventive methods from valley fever include wearing a mask, staying inside during a dust storm, wetting the soil before digging, keeping doors and windows securely locked. Currently, no vaccine is available. However, Dr. Garry Cole at the University of Texas at San Antonia is working on a new vaccine, which may also cure patients of this disease. Further information contact: Valley Fever Center for Excellence at (520) 629 – 4777.