What newcomers need to know about Valley Fever
Larissa Lewis is an Infection Preventionist on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (602)865-6092.
Question: My family and I are relatively new to Phoenix and have heard some rumblings about Valley Fever. Can you please explain what Valley Fever is and how it can be prevented?
Answer: For people who are new to Arizona or unfamiliar with Valley Fever, it’s a disease caused by the fungus coccidioides. It is also called coccidioidomycosis by clinicians, or sometimes cocci for short.
This fungus is native to the dry soil of the Southwest, including Arizona. When the soil is disturbed or stirred up by weather, farming, construction, or some other means, spores of this fungus become airborne and can easily be inhaled by people in the area. Inhaling these spores can cause Valley Fever. Fortunately, Valley Fever is not contagious from person to person or from animals to people. You can only get Valley Fever from inhaling the cocci spores from the soil.
Most often Valley Fever causes a pulmonary or lung infection, causing symptoms such as a cough, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and other flu-like symptoms. A red rash is also common. In some instances, Valley Fever may cause infection in places other than the lungs, including the central nervous system (meningitis) or in bones or joints.
Symptoms of Valley Fever aren’t always distinguishable from other infections. So, to diagnose Valley Fever, doctors often use chest X-rays, as well as blood tests and other tests. Treatment, other than rest, is often not necessary. In fact, many people experience only mild symptoms and may not even realize they have the disease. With that said, people with more serious cases or who have compromised immune systems or health complications may require medical treatment in the form of antifungal medications.
People can reduce their risk of exposure to coccidioides, the fungus that causes Valley Fever by wearing masks when working outdoors, wetting soil before digging, and staying indoors during dust storms.
If you notice flu-like symptoms and your condition doesn’t improve with time and rest, contact your healthcare provider to determine if medical treatment is necessary.