Undiagnosed Flu-Like Symptoms? Consider Valley Fever if you’ve visited the Southwestern United States

June 14, 2010

After periods of heavy rain (like much of the US has had this year) a fungus can develop in the soil of the Southwestern United States that, if its spores are inhaled, causes Coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever, as it is generally called (it can sometimes be localized as Arizona or California Fever).

Valley Fever symptoms are more likely to present (and worsen into disseminated coccidioidomycosis) if you have a weakened immune system, are older, are in the late stages if pregnancy or are postpartum, or of Filipino, Black, Native American, Hispanic and Asian descent. Valley Fever symptoms may not present at all, or may be very mild. They include:

  • Flu-like symptoms with emphasis on the lungs (Coughing, etc., with worse symptoms including lung nodules and coughing up blood)
  • Rashes
  • Severe Pneumonia
  • And Dissemination, or the spread of the disease throughout the body, which can then cause:
  • Skin Ulcers
  • Pain in areas like the joints
  • Heart Inflammation
  • Urinary Tract Problems
  • Death (especially if it is untreated or if there is another complication such as pregnancy, Meningitis or HIV)

Although it can be difficult to get a diagnoses of Valley Fever because it is generally uncommon (less than 1% of local populations report symptoms each year) if you have undiagnosed flu-like symptoms, have ruled out more common diseases such as Hep C, and have visited areas with the mold, ask your doctor to test a tissue or fluid sample for the Valley Fever spore. If your symptoms are mild and low risk, your doctor may not prescribe a treatment immediately. Generally, treatment includes an anti-fungal medication and can last until you improve, or if you have severe (disseminated symptoms) may last for the rest of your life.

To be proactive about your health, take steps to strengthen your immune system such as eating an array of fruits and vegetables, exercising, and drinking lots of water. If you have specific health concerns, talk to your doctor. Avoid visiting areas in the south west where the soil is disturbed (construction sites, outdoor events) after rainy season.

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