With the monsoon season quickly approaching and as a valley fever survivor, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share a quick list of facts about the disease.
- Valley Fever is contracted by inhaling spores of Coccidioides sp. fungus (see photo).
- The fungus that causes Valley Fever is regulated by the federal government in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In accordance with this law, anyone possessing, using, transferring, or receiving any of the select agents (including Coccidioides) must notify the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, or is otherwise committing a federal crime.
- To guard against biological terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 terrorism and subsequent anthrax deaths, Coccidioides was regulated even further in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.
- Valley Fever case reporting in Arizona has increased 3,931% from 1990 (255 reports) to 2009 (10,279 diagnosed case reports). That is almost a four thousand percent increase in cases reported from 1990 to 2009.
- The Coccidioides arthroconidial spore is as small as the anthrax spore, making infection possible in your office, home, automobile, airport or hotel. It can pass through an open door in your home or a window screen. When driving in your car it is advisable to keep your vents closed, especially when it is dusty or windy outside.
- Arizona is an endemic area to the fungus.
- Stay indoors with strong winds and blowing dust and close your windows.
- An ordinary dust mask will NOT prevent Valley Fever! The tiny spore size of Coccidioides can easily be inhaled through the mask.
- It is possible to contract Valley Fever just by passing through Arizona, even by a visitor passing through an airport.
- Two thirds of all Valley Fever infections are contracted in Arizona.
- The Valley Fever Center for Excellence (VFCE), located in Tucson, AZ, has called coccidioidomycosis Arizona’s “local secret.” Very few people outside of Arizona know that Valley Fever even exists.
- Valley Fever is not a benign disease. Valley Fever can have devastating medical, emotional, and monetary effects on those who require treatment and their families. Valley Fever kills 200-500 Americans every year.
- It was estimated only 2% of the total number of Valley Fever infections are diagnosed.
- Although Valley Fever can be contracted all year round, more cases are diagnosed in Arizona from June to July and October to November.
- Valley Fever can be contracted at any time of the day or night.
- Valley Fever is frequently misdiagnosed because it can have so many symptoms.
- Valley Fever starts in the lungs but can disseminate (spread to cause secondary infections) to other parts of the body such as skin, bones, joints, and the meninges (the lining of the brain).
- Once a person is infected, Valley Fever never completely leaves. To date, it can not be totally eliminated from the body by any medication. There is no cure.
- Valley Fever is with you for life. It can be inactive but can activate at any time, even 45 or more years later. No long term studies have been conducted to see how many asymptomatic cases reactivate or to gauge the strength of reactivated infections.
- Valley Fever can infect infants, healthy adults, the elderly and pretty much any mammal. Valley Fever does not discriminate.
- If you are in the 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy, live in or visit Arizona, and contract Valley Fever, you have a significantly higher risk for a severe disseminated infection.
- Before antifungal drugs were used to combat cocci almost all cases of pregnant women with Valley Fever died.
- Men tend to have disseminated cases of cocci more often than women.
- Valley Fever is more likely to disseminate if there is an immune deficiency present — even if the victim was never aware of his or her initial infection, it could make its presence felt years later.
- One does not need an immune deficiency to have a disseminated case of Valley Fever. You can be a perfectly healthy person with no immune deficiency, contract Valley Fever, and have a severe or lethal case.
- People over 60 years of age are twice as likely to be diagnosed with Valley Fever and to have the most severe cases.
- An increasing number of dogs in Arizona are suffering Valley Fever infections. They have greater chances of contracting Valley Fever than humans
- It is widely believed that most people who get over a Valley Fever infection are protected from inhaling a second infection.
- Valley Fever does not always show positive in titer tests, even in an infected individual.
- Valley Fever’s lung nodules have frequently been misdiagnosed as lung cancer.
- Like the West Nile Virus, Valley Fever has been transferred from organ donors to recipients.
- Despite the fact that disseminated coccidioidal infections spread through the bloodstream, the American Association of Blood Banks does not check the blood supply for cocci.
- As a result of their Valley Fever infections, some people have lost their jobs, health insurance, property, and homes because they are unable to work.
- Employees relocated into Arizona are not told about Valley Fever, what it can do to them, their children, their pets, or what they can do to mitigate the risks.
- Real estate companies and their agents in Arizona are not required to tell any prospective customers about the existence of Valley Fever.
- The Chambers of Commerce and Tourist Bureaus in Arizona do not send information about the state’s naturally occurring bio-hazard in tourism literature.
If you’ve been out on a windy day or been in a dust storm, be cognizant of the symptoms of Valley Fever:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Pneumonia, but this is a fungal pneumonia
- Fever (high or low grade fever) Ø
- Shortness of breath/wheezing
- Coughing (can be chronic, severe, and include blood)
- Chest pain/pressure
- Night sweats/Chills (can be 24/7)
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid weight loss (can loose 20 lbs. in 10 days)
- Rash (usually on legs, upper chest and arms)
- Burning sensations at various parts of the body (foot, joints, etc.)
- Malaise/chronic exhaustion
- Muscle aches
- Muscle stiffness
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Joint stiffness
- Leg/ankle/foot swelling
- Chest pain
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, I strongly suggest getting to the doctor and having a titer done. Although titers aren’t always conclusive, they usually are. Mine didn’t show up the first time, but it did later and a nodule could be seen on my lung x-ray.
Valley fever put me down for 7 or 8 weeks. The sooner you treat it, the sooner you can get back to your life.
No Arizona provides information about Arizona and reveals the truth about life in the desert based on facts and observations.
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