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Valley Fever

Valley fever is a fungal infection. It is caused by coccidioides organisms, especially two coccidioides fungi species. These fungi are usually found in the soil in certain regions. The spores of this fungi can be stirred into air by anything that disrupts the soil like farming, construction and wind.

What is Valley fever?

It is a fungal infection caused by an organism- coccidioides. The infection can cause you to have flu-like symptoms. This organism grows and thrives in the soil in some specific areas around the world. The spores from these fungi get stirred into the air by wind, construction, farming, etc, and stay in the environment for a long time. The spores are very minute in size and can be carried far by the wind. If a person comes in contact with such air, these spores lodge themselves into the lungs, reproducing themselves causing flu-like symptoms. Usually, the infection is mild and goes away on its own. However, in severe cases where the fungal infection spreads to distant body parts, antifungal medications are given. Over the years, doctors have given different names to it like Desert rheumatism, San Joaquin Valley Fever, Coccidioidomycosis, etc.

This fungus is found in desert soil. Some specific areas it exists are Arizona, southwestern Mexico, Texas, Southern California, Eastern Washington state, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Paraguay.

Symptoms

People who get exposed can show a series of symptoms. The symptoms can go from acute and mild to chronic and severe if left untreated. The symptoms occur after one to three weeks after the exposure. Mild symptoms are-

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Body aches, joint ache
  • Soreness in muscles
  • Rashes on the whole body.

The infection can go unnoticed if it is mild. It can get diagnosed later as nodules on chest X-Ray or through a blood test. However, if the infection turns out to be severe, one can take months to recover. The body pain and joint pain may last for quite a long time. Depending upon the person’s immunity and overall health, the infection converts from mild to severe.

People with diabetes or pregnant women are at high risk. Chronic symptoms are-

  • Blood tinged sputum
  • Nodules in lungs
  • Cough and cold
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Low-grade fever

If the infection is not treated, the symptoms turn into chronic pneumonia. A disseminated form of valley fever is where the infection spreads to other body parts like skin, bones, liver, kidney, heart, brain, etc. Symptoms associated with this form of valley fever are-

  • Lesions on the skin (more kind of ulcers and nodules rather than a rash)
  • Lesions on bones, spine, etc
  • Meningitis
  • Swollen joints, especially on knees and ankles

When to See a Doctor?

People of old age are at the highest risk as they have weakened immune systems. Thus if you are experiencing any of the abovementioned symptoms, especially if-

  • You live in or recently have travelled in such area where this disease prevails
  • Are pregnant
  • Are Diabetic
  • Your symptoms are not improving even after medication.

Do make sure your doctor knows about your travel history or any medical condition you have.

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The doctor will prescribe some blood tests to confirm valley fever. A sample of your sputum gets taken. X Rays of the lungs determine the spread of the infection.

How to prevent Valley Fever?

This infection is caused by a  fungus and is pertained to a specific area. All we can do is take precautions while traveling and avoid them.

  • Wear a mask while visiting such areas
  • Avoid construction sites or dusty areas
  • Stay indoors during dust storms
  • Wet the land before you start digging and use  protective overalls
  • Using in-home filters for purifying air
  • Clean skin injuries with soap and water

Complications associated with Valley fever

  • Pneumonia- People with weak immunity suffer from pneumonia-like symptoms from valley fever and take time to gain their health back
  • Ruptured lung nodules- Some people develop nodules in the lungs which cause breathing difficulty or chest pain. If these nodules rupture, the doctors will have to place a tube in the space around the lungs, helping the person to breathe.
  • Dissemination- It is a fatal type of valley fever causing serious issues like skin ulcers, abscesses, bone lesions, Joint pains, inflammation of the heart, Urinary tract problems, meningitis, etc.

Diagnosis

  • Blood tests: Your doctor may recommend blood test through which he/she can check for antibodies against the fungus that causes valley fever.
  • Sputum smear or culture: These tests are made to check the sample of the matter that is discharged while coughing (sputum) to check the presence of coccidioides organisms.

If your physician thinks you may have pneumonia linked to valley fever, he/she may also mandate imaging tests like a chest X-ray, CT scan or an MRI.

If required, doctors may also remove a tissue sample from the lungs for testing.

In cerain cases, doctors can perform a skin test to determine if you have had valley fever in the past and have developed immunity.

Treatment

People with a strong immune system do not need too much medical assistance. Bed rest with lots of fluids under your doctor’s supervision will work for them. But if the symptoms turn severe, antifungal treatment is given. Antifungal drugs like fluconazole or Itraconazole can be prescribed. In case of dissemination, like in meningitis, lifelong treatment is needed. Therefore, it is vital to get medical treatment as soon as possible. Once you have contracted Valley fever, you get immune to it for the rest of your life.

Valley fever is not that severe if it is treated appropriately, on time. We can use our common sense and prevent it as well. Before visiting any place, look up for potential diseases, especially if you have a weakened immune system.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

Is it possible to contract valley fever in India?

Although it got diagnosed in the desert region of the US, the fungus or bacterias can grow in any soil. It is always suggested to be cautious and takes all necessary precautions.

I have flu-like symptoms. Is it valley fever?

Have you recently travelled to any such place where you can contract this infection? It usually takes up to 1-3 weeks for the symptoms to show up. If yes, then contact your doctor immediately and undergo proper medical treatment.

I have pain in my chest. I recently took a trip. Is it valley fever?

Pain in the chest can be attributed to various reasons. It can be any heart complication too. It is better to get it checked by a doctor. If you have valley fever, it will show up on your chest X-Ray.

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