Alarmingly, the valley fever danger zone is expected to widen; experts believe that hotter temperatures may cause the habitat of the mold spores that carry valley fever to expand beyond the current zone.
Are you at risk? Read on to make sure you understand valley fever risks, valley fever symptoms, and valley fever treatment options.
What is valley fever?
Not everyone who breathes in the valley fever fungus will get valley fever. Those who do get it usually develop flu-like symptoms. However, unlike most flus, valley fever symptoms often lasts for weeks, or even months.
The severity of the valley fever symptoms differs from one victim to the next. For those hit hardest by valley fever, the infection spreads, going from the lungs to the rest of the body. When this happens, some have suffered meningitis or even death.
How big of a threat is the valley fever outbreak?
A March 2013 CDC article states that more than 20,000 new cases of valley fever are reported each year in the United States. The number could be much higher though, as scientists believe that many more cases go undiagnosed. Some researchers put the valley fever estimate at more than 150,000 people affected annually, with many of its victims not knowing why they are sick or with what.
Who is at risk of getting valley fever?
- Where you live or travel to matters, as mentioned above. The CDC’s valley fever risk map below shows the higher-risk areas in the U.S., where valley fever in endemic:
- Have you recently moved to an endemic area? Those who do are statistically more likely to get infected by valley fever than current residents.
- While anyone can get valley fever, age can increase risk. Valley Fever is most often contracted by older adults, particularly those 60 and older.
- Other demographics groups that are at a greater risk for developing the severe forms of valley fever include African Americans, Asians, women in their third trimester of pregnancy, and those with weak immune systems.
- Weather or natural events, such as earthquakes and dust storms, can be a risk factor too. Outbreaks of valley fever sometimes happen when events like these disturb large amounts of soil.
Symptoms of Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever)
In the most advanced cases of valley fever, you can expect skin lesions, meningitis, chronic pneumonia, bone infection, or joint infection.
The one good piece of news regarding your risk of getting valley fever: once you get valley fever, your body develops immunity that will protect you against future infections. That said, some have experienced a "relapse" – symptoms getting worse after initially getting better.
There are no over-the-counter medications for valley fever and there is currently no vaccine to prevent you from contracting valley fever. But if you develop valley fever infection, treatments for valley fever are available and usually effective. If you develop symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.
Often, treatment is not necessary, since symptoms may resolve on their own. Some doctors will prescribe fluconazole or a similar antifungal medication to prevent a severe infection.
If you are in a high-risk group, get treatment as quickly as possible; if you develop a severe valley fever infection, you’ll need to be treated with antifungal medications as advanced valley fever can be fatal if not treated. In the most severe cases of valley fever, you may need respiratory supportive therapy or hospitalization. In severe valley fever cases, the nervous system can experience long-term damage. Those with weakened immune systems can develop chronic pneumonia.
If you think you have coccidioidomycosis (valley fever) ask your healthcare provider if you need treatment.
How can I learn more about valley fever?
If you live in an area with Coccidioides in the environment, contact your local or state health department for the most up-to-date information.