Coccidioidomycosis, also called Valley Fever, is caused by a fungus called Coccidioides immitis, which is found in the soil of certain parts of the United States. People can become infected with this fungus when they breathe in its spores. The infection is most common in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, but it can occur in other parts of the United States. If you live in an area where this infection is common, it’s important to take precautions to avoid becoming infected.
It’s very difficult to avoid breathing in the fungus Coccidioides in areas where it’s common in the environment. People who live in these areas can try to avoid spending time in dusty places as much as possible.
However, for people who are at risk for severe Valley fever, such as people who have weakened immune systems, pregnant women, people who have diabetes, or people who are Black or Filipino, there may be other precautions they can take to lower their chances of developing the infection. Some of these steps include staying inside during dust storms, avoiding close contact with dirt or dust, and wearing a respirator when necessary. Although there is no sure way to prevent Valley fever, following these tips may help reduce the risk of infection.
Coccidioidomycosis is not contagious, meaning it cannot be passed from person to person
Symptoms appear between one to three weeks after exposure and last a few weeks to a few months
Only about five to ten percent of people who get Valley fever will develop serious or long-term lung problems
Right now, there is not a vaccine that prevents coccidioidomycosis
Valley fever can be diagnosed by taking a blood sample and looking for Coccidioides antibodies or antigens. If the provider suspects that you have Valley fever, they may also order other tests, such as a chest X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. These tests can help to rule out other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Laboratories may also see if Coccidioides will grow from body fluids or tissues (this is called a culture). This test can help to confirm the diagnosis.
If you are diagnosed with coccidioidomycosis, your doctor will likely prescribe antifungal medication. The treatment may last for 3-6 months. It’s important to take all of the medication prescribed and to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Severe cases of coccidioidomycosis can be life-threatening, but most people who are treated early and properly recover fully. Currently, there is no vaccine available to prevent coccidioidomycosis.
Symptoms of coccidioidomycosis can include fever, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, or rash on upper body or legs. In extremely rare cases, the spores can cause a skin infection if entered through a cut, wound, or splinter.
Symptoms of a fungal skin infection include redness, swelling, pain, and itching. The symptoms may resemble those of other diseases, so it’s important to see a doctor if you think you may be infected.
This fungus can only spread from the lungs to other people or animals through very rare instances of wound infections or organ transplants. If you have had Valley fever, your immune system will most likely protect you from getting it again. Some people can have the infection come back again (a relapse) after getting better the first time, but this is very rare.