Why The CDC Wants You to Know About Valley Fever

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The CDC wants you to know about an illness called Valley fever which is a fungal lung infection. They’re presently up in arms about and for good reason. It can be pretty devastating. It is common for people visiting or relocating to the Phoenix area to be concerned about Valley Fever. While some contract Valley Fever, most people are not affected very severely, and many people never even know that they have it.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, in 2016 there were more than 6,000 reported cases of Valley Fever reported in Arizona.

About Valley Fever

Valley Fever is a non-contagious lung infection. It occurs when a fungus becomes airborne when the wind transports dust around construction areas and agricultural areas. When spores are inhaled, Valley Fever can result.

The medical name for Valley Fever is coccidioidomycosis.

Some common symptoms are flu like symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Rash on upper body or legs

In the U.S. it is prevalent in the Southwest where temperatures are high, and the soils are dry. Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah are primary locations, but there have been cases in other states as well.

It is estimated that about one-third of the people in the lower desert areas of Arizona have had Valley Fever at some point. Your chances of getting Valley Fever are about 1 out of 33, but the longer you live in the Desert Southwest, the higher your chances of infection. There are between 5,000 and 25,000 new cases of Valley Fever each year. You don’t have to live there to get it—people visiting or traveling through the area have been infected, too.

Dogs can get Valley Fever and might need long-term medication. Horses, cattle sheep, and other animals can also get Valley Fever.

Risk Factors

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Construction workers, farm workers or others who spend time working in dirt and dust are most likely to get Valley Fever. You are also at higher risk if you are caught in dust storms, or if your recreation, such as dirt biking or off-roading, takes you to dusty areas. One thing you can do to minimize your risk of getting Valley Fever is to wear a mask if you have to be out in blowing dust. Staying indoors in a dust storm is also recommended.

Valley Fever is not contagious.

It usually takes between one and four weeks to become symptomatic if you contract Valley Fever.

About two-thirds of the people who are infected never notice any symptoms, or experience mild symptoms and never seek treatment. Those who have sought treatment showed signs including fatigue, cough, chest pain, fever, rash, headache, and joint aches. Sometimes people develop red bumps on their skin.

In about 5 percent of the cases, nodules develop on the lungs which might look like lung cancer in a chest x-ray. A biopsy or surgery may be necessary to determine if the bulge is a result of Valley Fever.

Another 5 percent of people develop what is referred to as a lung cavity. This is most common with older people, and more than half of the cavities disappear after a while without treatment.

If the lung cavity ruptures, however, there may be chest pain and difficulty breathing. Surgery may be needed.

It is common for people visiting or relocating to the Phoenix area to be concerned about Valley Fever. While some contract Valley Fever, most people are not affected very severely, and many people never even know that they have it.

Anyone can contract Valley Fever. Once infected, however, certain groups seem to have more instances of it spreading to other parts of their bodies; as far as gender is concerned, men are more likely than women, and, when considering race, African Americans and Filipinos are more likely to have the disease spread. People with compromised immune systems are also at risk. People ages 60-79 make up the highest percentage of reported cases.

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Seek medical care if you are over 60, have a weakened immune system, are pregnant, or are of Filipino or African heritage, and you develop the signs and symptoms of valley fever, especially if you:

  • Live in or have recently traveled to an area where this disease is common
  • Have symptoms that aren’t improving

Be sure to tell your doctor if you’ve traveled to a place where valley fever is endemic and you have symptoms. For more information visit the CDC.

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