Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides. This fungus is known to live in the soil of the southwestern United States, and parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America.
1. Most cases occur in Arizona.
Approximately 10,000 valley fever cases are reported in the United States each year. Nearly 70% of the reported cases are from Arizona and nearly 30% are from California1.
2. Valley fever can resemble “flu-like” symptoms.
Symptoms of valley fever include fatigue, cough, fever, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, weight loss, rash on the upper body or legs, headache, and shortness of breath. However, most people (approximately 60%) who are exposed never have any symptoms1.
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3. Valley fever is on the rise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of valley fever cases has increased by nearly 75% since 2014. The reason is unclear but is possibly related to environmental factors, such as the weather and changes in land use. Valley fever is becoming a major public health problem for parts of Arizona and California2.
4. Some people require lifelong treatment.
Patients with coccidioidal meningitis, which occurs after the fungus spreads from elsewhere in the body to the brain or spinal cord require lifelong treatment since there is an extremely high relapse rate when medications are reduced in dosage or discontinued3.
5. Valley fever cannot be spread from person to person.
Valley fever is caused by breathing in fungal spores from the soil or dry areas. People working in certain occupations such as construction, excavation, agricultural work, archaeological digging, or pursuing activities like biking or driving ATVs have an increased risk of exposure4. In rare occurrences, valley fever can be caused by direct inoculation of the fungus such as from a contaminated penetrating object or from an infected organ transplants5.
6. Animals can also get valley fever.
Various domestic animals such as dogs, cats, and horses along with wild animals such as skunks, cougars, and javelinas are also susceptible to valley fever4.
7. Valley fever requires specific treatment.
Routine antibiotics, such as penicillin, will not work against valley fever. Valley fever is caused by a fungus requiring anti-fungal drugs such as “azoles” that are specific to the treatment of valley fever. Infectious disease specialists, who receive specific training in this disease, can help with treatment4.