Larry Spratling, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Banner Baywood Medical Center
Question: I am new to Arizona and heard Valley Fever is a common disease that affects those who live in the desert. What is Valley Fever and how can I make sure that my family is not seriously affected by it?
Answer: “Valley Fever” is a syndrome or cluster of symptoms that was recognized long before the cause was understood.
- low-grade fever
- night sweats
- muscle joint soreness/stiffness
These symptoms are the result of infection from a fungus. The fungus lives on organic matter in the soil and does not need humans to survive, but occasionally humans and other animals enter its life cycle by inhaling the spores. These spores are extremely hardy and lightweight and become airborne whenever the soil is disturbed. Our summer dust storms, with their huge dust clouds, are highly infectious. Avoiding inhaling dust is key to reducing the risk of infection.
Severity of infection depends on the number of spores inhaled and the resistance of the host. Individuals whose ability to resist infection has been reduced are at greater risk for serious illness, but about 70 percent of infections are so mild that no illness is detected. For those who do become clinically ill, there is a spectrum of severity from very mild to life-threatening.
Patients with normal immunity usually recover without treatment, but for those patients who do need treatment, there are several oral and intravenous antifungal antibiotics available.
Your best strategy to minimize dust exposure:
- Stay indoors during dust storms
- Wear a mask if disturbing soil
- Do not let children or pets play outside during a storm.
Once you have had the infection and recovered, you will not get the infection a second time – providing that your immunity remains normal.