Signs & Symptoms
of Valley Fever
More than 60% of people infected with Valley Fever don't know it. They may experience mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all and recover with no medical diagnosis or treatment.
When symptoms are present, they generally show up between one to three weeks from exposure and inhalation of the fungal spore. Symptoms may by similar to those of other common illnesses.
Pneumonia-like symptoms include:
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty Breathing
- Coughing Blood
Other symptoms may include:
- Profuse Night-Sweating
- Loss of Appetite
- Weight Loss
- Muscle and Joint Aches
(often in ankles and knees)
- Painful Red Bumps that Turn Brown (often on shins and forearms)
- Skin Lesions
- Stiff Neck
- Central Nervous System Disturbances
If you, a friend, a loved one or a pet experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or vet and ask to be tested for Valley Fever. Valley Fever can only be determined by a laboratory test ordered by a doctor.
In the majority of cases, the immune system is able to control the infection on its own. In those persons, treatment may be unnecessary, and infection produces an immunity that protects them from future infections for the rest of their lives.
For people or pets that do need treatment, there are antifungal drugs that can be given orally or by vein to control the fungus and its symptoms. In cases where Valley Fever has created abscesses in the skin, lungs, bones or joints, surgery may be required to remove or drain infected areas. While the antifungal medications or naturally developed immunity can control an infection, there is presently no cure for Valley Fever.
FRequently Asked Questions
What is Valley Fever?
Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) is primarily a disease of the lungs that is common in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It is caused by the fungus Coccidioides sp., which grows in soils in areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures, and moderate winter temperatures. These fungal spores become airborne when the soil is disturbed by winds, construction, farming and other activities.
When am I most likely to get Valley Fever?
Valley Fever infections are more likely to occur during certain seasons. In Arizona, the highest prevalence of infections occurs June through July and from October through November. In California, the risk of infection is highest from June through November, without the late summer break.
Where am I most likely to get Valley Fever?
Valley Fever is most abundant in the dry regions of the San Joaquin Valley of California and the Sonoran desert surrounding Phoenix and Tucson. Because of Arizona's growth in this endemic region, there are more infections in Arizona than in any other state.
Areas of Distribution:
- Southern Arizona (especially in the Phoenix and Tucson areas).
- San Joaquin and Central Valleys of California
- Southern parts of Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Western Texas (especially around El Paso)
- Mexico (in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua).
- Also found in semiarid and arid soils of Central and South America.
How is Valley Fever contracted?
Exposure occurs after a spore from the fungus becomes airborne because of either windy conditions or soil disruption and is inhaled by humans, dogs and many other species of mammal. About one third of such exposures produce illness requiring medical attention. In most cases this causes a pulmonary disease indistinguishable from pneumonia due to bacteria or viruses. This illness frequently takes many weeks or months to resolve. Occasionally Valley Fever is life threatening and even fatal. A recent Arizona Department of Health Services investigation determined that approximately 400 such severe infections occur annually in this state. Valley Fever is not a "contagious" disease, meaning it is not passed from person to person.
How do I know if I have Valley Fever?
Valley Fever requires specific laboratory tests to be accurately diagnosed. Unless this is done, patients often receive needless treatments as a presumed bacterial infection and undergo a variety of diagnostic procedures for cancer or other diseases.
How severe can Valley Fever become?
For some patients, delays in accurate diagnosis prevent much needed appropriate antifungal drug treatment from being started in a timely manner. Thousands of Arizonans must deal with progressive Valley Fever infections, requiring expensive, long-term or even life-long treatment as well as surgery. Every year, 30 – 40 Arizonans die from Valley Fever.
Most cases of Valley Fever are very mild. It is thought that over 60% of infected people have either no symptoms or experience flu-like symptoms and never seek medical attention.
Range of Cases:
- Not apparent - 60%
- Mild to Moderate - 30%
- Complications - 5% to 10%
- Fatal - less than 1%
What are the symptoms of Valley Fever?
The most common symptoms are fatigue, cough, chest pain, fever, rash, headache and joint aches. Some people develop painful red bumps on their shins or elsewhere that gradually turn brown (the medical term for these is "erythema nodosum".)
These symptoms are not unique to Valley Fever and can be caused by other illnesses. Therefore, identifying Valley Fever as the cause of illness requires specific laboratory tests.
What kind of animals can get Valley Fever?
Many domestic and native animals are susceptible to the disease, including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, burros, coyotes, rodents, bats and snakes.
What kind of animals can get Valley Fever?
Many domestic and native animals are susceptible to the disease, including dogs, horses, cattle, sheep, burros, coyotes, rodents, bats and snakes.
Why is it called Valley Fever?
Valley Fever derives its name from its discovery in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where it was also referred to as "San Joaquin Valley Fever" or "Desert Rheumatism". The medical name for Valley Fever is Coccidioidomycosis (often shortened to "cocci" caused by the fungus Coccidioides sp. (C.immitis, C.posadassi)
Who gets Valley Fever?
- Anyone who lives, visits or travels through the areas where the fungus grows in the soil (these areas are called endemic) may acquire Valley Fever.
- Military personnel who may be training in these areas are also at risk.
- People working in certain occupations such as construction, excavation, agricultural work, archaeological digging and other occupations which disturb soil in endemic areas may have an increased risk of exposure and disease.
- Persons who pursue recreational activities such as biking or driving ATVs or 4-wheel drive vehicles in the desert may also be at increased risk.
- Earthquakes that have occurred in endemic areas of California have also resulted in increased cases of Valley Fever.
- Many domestic and native animals are susceptible to the disease, including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, burros, coyotes, rodents, bats and snakes. Dogs are especially susceptible and often need long-term therapy with antifungal medications.
While there are no racial or gender differences in susceptibility to primary infection with coccidioidomycosis, differences in risk of disseminated infection do appear to exist. Men have a higher rate of dissemination than women and several studies have shown that the rate of dissemination in African Americans and Filipinos is several times higher than in the rest of the U.S. population. Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians may also have a higher rate of dissemination than the general population, but these population differences are not well defined.
Is Valley Fever contagious?
NO! Valley Fever is contracted only by the inhalation of the fungal spores. Valley Fever is NOT spread from human to human, animal to animal, animal to human or human to animal. The spores change form in tissues of the body and are not contagious in tissue form.
Is there a cure for Valley Fever?
No. Researchers within our center and in the U.S. are working on the development of a prophylactic vaccine. We are also in the early phases of testing a drug that shows promise of a cure in the future.
I had Valley Fever in the past. Can I get it again?
Usually a lifetime immunity is acquired from an infection which means you don't get it again. However, occasionally, changes in the person's immune system brought about by other diseases or treatments which lower or suppress the immune system can allow a reactivation or re-infection.
Who is at risk of Dissemination?
While there are no racial or gender differences in susceptibility or who contracts the primary infection, there are differences in risk of dissemination. Men have a higher rate of dissemination than women. African Americans and Filipinos have several times higher rate of dissemination. Others at increased risk of disseminated disease are those with immune system deficiencies such as organ transplants, Hodgkin's disease patients, diabetics, pregnant women in their third trimester, patients on chronic corticosteroid therapy or chemotherapy, cancer patients and HIV/AIDS patients.
Does Asthma/COPD increases the chances of contacting Valley Fever?
No. The risk of contracting Valley Fever is no greater for a person with Asthma/Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease than anyone else. You must inhale the spores from the fungus in order to become ill.
Are pregnant women more at risk?
Women in their third trimester of pregnancy are at a high risk of developing disseminated Valley Fever due to normal hormonal changes that cause decease in function of immune system. However, most pregnant women with Valley Fever do fine. If you are pregnant and think you have Valley Fever, you should visit your physician.
Can babies contract Valley Fever in the womb?
Valley Fever is rare in newborn babies. Most babies who get Valley Fever probably acquire it during or shortly after birth, through inhaling fungal spores from the environment.