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What is Valley Fever?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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Valley Fever is a fungal infection that damages the lungs and upper respiratory tract. Coccidioidomycosis immitis is the medical name for Valley Fever. Valley Fever is caught by inhaling coccidioide spores in the desert areas where the fungus grows in the soil.

Valley Fever is found in the Southwestern United States and Central and South America. Those who work with breaking up soil in those areas include farmers, archaeologists and builders digging up the soil on construction sites. They can be at risk for Valley Fever. The coccidioide spores can blow in the wind in dust from the soil and can withstand extreme temperatures.

Valley Fever is never spread by person to person contact, but only through inhalation of the coccidioide spores. Animals such as dogs, cats and farm animals also catch Valley Fever through inhalation of infected spores. Animals may require medication, while humans may not if their body can fight off the fungal infection. However, death is a possibility in cases of Valley Fever if the infection develops into pneumonia or meningitis and no treatment is given.

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Although Valley Fever is a lung and respiratory disease, it can sometimes affect other parts of the body. The spread of Valley Fever to areas outside the respiratory system such as the brain, skin and bones is referred to as disseminated Valley Fever. Older people and those with immune deficiencies are especially susceptible to the disseminated type of Valley Fever. People of Asian, African-American and Filipino decent are also thought to be in the high risk group for disseminated Valley Fever, as are pregnant women in their last trimester.

It can take up to a month before any symptoms of Valley Fever are noticeable. Moreover, in up to 60% of cases, the disease is symptomless. Those that do experience symptoms of Valley Fever usually complain of fatigue and general symptoms that mimic the flu. People with Valley Fever may have body aches and fever. About 5% of people infected with Valley Fever get a red, bumpy rash on their skin. Any flu-like symptoms may last up to a month.

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