Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is a fungal infection that usually presents itself in the form of a lung disease. This condition is also known by the name desert fever, desert rheumatism, and San Joaquin Valley fever. This condition is very mild, in most cases, and requires no special treatment. It may appear like a common cold or flu, with or without rashes on the skin. But this mild infection produces severe symptoms in people who have a weak immune system. Thus, pregnant women, people with HIV infection and diabetes, and those who are on medications that weaken the immune system are at a higher risk of developing this infection. This fungal infection is most commonly found in the south-western parts of United States, Central California, and Mexico. The risk is greater among Native Americans, African Americans, Filipinos and Mexican Americans.
Coccidioides immitis and Coccidioides posadasii are the two common fungal species that cause valley fever. The fungus gains access to the body through inhalation of air contaminated with fungi. This species usually grows in soil but reaches air along with dust. These fungi grow long filaments and produce spores that spread to several miles through air. The spores are also very contagious. People who work in farms, construction sites, and archeological and paleontological sites are at higher risk of getting this infection. It may also spread to a long distance through dust storms.
The symptoms of valley fever are generally very mild and often resemble that of cold or flu:
Symptoms usually appear after one or two weeks of infection. In some cases, the fungal infection may spread from lungs to the skin, bones, lymph nodes, and other organs. In some rare cases, the infection may lead to complications, including rupturing of lung nodules, severe forms of pneumonia, and meningitis.
If the symptoms are mild, no special treatment may be suggested and the symptoms often disappear within a few weeks. Antifungal medications are prescribed for those who have a risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the body. No vaccines are available for preventing this infection. In most cases the infection does not recur once it is treated or gone.