Valley fever is caused by a fungus that thrives in the soils of the desert areas of southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, California's San Joaquin Valley, northern Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. In the soil, this fungus, coccidioidomycosis, grows as mold with long filaments that become airborne when the soil is disturbed. When inhaled, these spores reproduce rapidly in the lungs, leading to flu-like symptoms.
Ranging from mild to severe:
If not diagnosed and quickly treated, Valley fever can advance into more serious conditions, such as chronic coccidioidomycosis, which has symptoms similar to tuberculosis, or disseminated coccidioidomycosis, which is a systemic disease that affects other organs and can even lead to meningitis.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you live in or have recently visited a high-risk area and start to develop flu-like symptoms, see your doctor. Diagnosis of Valley Fever is done by a blood test or a sputum smear or culture. If you test positive, your doctor will most likely prescribe rest and fluids, the same recommendations for treating flu. If your symptoms do not improve or you are at high risk for complications, you may be prescribed antifungal medications.
Your risk of getting Valley Fever is highest in the summer. When you are outdoors, consider wearing a mask, especially if you are working in the soil (wetting the soil before digging in it is also helpful). In addition, stay indoors and tightly close your doors and windows during dust storms.