Can you transmit Valley fever person to person? Can you only catch it during monsoon season? John Galgiani, MD, weighs in on five common myths regarding Valley fever. Dr. Galgiani is a professor of medicine in infectious diseases at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Tucson and is a leading voice in Valley fever treatment and research at the Valley Fever Center.
1. Valley fever season is during monsoon storms
Whenever dry ground gets broken, the possibility of the Coccidioides spore—the spores that cause Valley fever—taking flight exists. This can be early in the monsoon season, when dust storms rage across the desert or when excavating an area. Once rains start, risk of infection actually drop.
2. Valley fever can be transmitted between people
Galgiani said the only way you can get Valley fever is through breathing in the spores loosened from the dirt. It cannot be transmitted from person to person. And, people with Valley fever pose no risk to the persons around them, even small children.
3. Staying inside during dust storms or covering your mouth and nose will protect you
You might think staying indoors during dust storms or covering your mouth and nose would be enough to keep you from breathing in the spores. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying inside, shutting windows and using a filtration system to keep spores out of your home or business. While that may have some effect at reducing exposure, spores are in the air at other times, too. If you have to be in a dusty area, a simple bandana over the mouth and nose won’t provide any protection because the spores are very small. The CDC recommends an N95 respirator to filter the air, but that is hard to do for any length of time.
4. Traveling through an area that gets Valley fever doesn’t mean you will get it
Just passing through areas where the Coccidioides fungus lives doesn’t mean you will get Valley fever, but it also doesn’t mean you won’t. You have a 1 and 30 chance of getting infected while living for 1 year in an area where the fungus is present. That calculates to a 1 in 13,000 chance of infection from an average tourist visit. It’s important to remember that not many infections cause an illness. “Only one out of three infections cause an illness, but when it does, it is typically a pneumonia, causing chest pain, cough and night sweats,” Dr. Galgiani said.
5. If you’re healthy, you won't have a severe case of Valley fever
People with weakened immune systems tend to be more likely to have a severe case of Valley fever, but that doesn’t mean healthy people won’t get it, too. Dr. Galgiani reminds us that the majority of people infected won’t get sick, but anyone can. Several additional factors can add to your risk of developing severe complications and requiring Valley fever treatment. These include having a weakened immune system, being pregnant and having diabetes.
If you have been in the areas where Valley fever is common and start having flu-like or pneumonia-like symptoms in the following month or two, Dr. Galgiani recommends asking your doctor to be tested.