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When you live in the southwest, symptoms like fever and chills may indicate something beyond your standard flu. Valley fever is an easily misdiagnosed fungal disease that can be quite serious. We want to help you understand what Valley fever is so that you can recognize the symptoms.

What is Valley fever?

Valley fever, also known as desert rheumatism, is a fungal infection that can have devastating effects. Valley fever commonly impacts over 150,000 people in the United States, with two-thirds of those cases being in Arizona. California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and parts of south-central Washington also experience Valley fever diagnosis. 

How do you get Valley fever?

The fungus that carries Valley fever is called Coccidioides, which is found in soil in the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. Typically, this fungus is present in areas with a dry and hot climate. You contract Valley fever by breathing in the air in areas where the microscopic fungus is present. 

Is Valley fever contagious?

No, Valley fever is not contagious and does not spread from person to person. 

What are the symptoms of Valley fever?

Symptoms of Valley fever typically present themselves as a respiratory infection. Unfortunately, because of this similarity to respiratory illnesses, there are often delays in the proper diagnosis and treatment of Valley fever. 

Interestingly, some people experience no symptoms with Valley fever, while others can have a full array of flu-like symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache 
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rash on upper body or legs

Symptoms of Valley fever may appear one to four weeks after the fungus and been inhaled. In some rare cases, the fungal spores can enter your skin through an open wound or splinter, causing a skin infection. 

How long do the symptoms of Valley fever last?

Typically, symptoms of Valley fever last anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. Some people may have symptoms that go away on their own, while 5-10% of people with Valley fever develop serious or long-term lung problems. The length of time to get over Valley fever usually depends on the state of your general health as well as how many of the fungal spores you have inhaled. 

It is important to note: if symptoms persist for more than a week, a healthcare provider should be contacted. 

How can you diagnose Valley fever?

Typically, it is your travel history that will be taken into account along with laboratory tests that will help in a Valley fever diagnosis. In some cases, lung imaging tests like x-rays or CT scans may be performed to check for pneumonia. Rare cases may involve the need for a tissue biopsy. If you suspect you may be suffering with Valley fever symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider at Mercy Grace as soon as possible.

What is the treatment for Valley fever?

Valley fever does not usually require medical treatment, but does require the need for bed rest and plenty of fluids. You can work closely with your doctor to monitor your symptoms and recovery. 

While there is currently no cure for Valley fever, the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence has researchers working diligently to find a cure. In fact, they have successfully tested a possible canine Valley fever vaccine, which serves as a positive sign that a human vaccine could be developed in the future. 

What happens if Valley fever is left untreated?

If left untreated, Valley fever can have serious consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control, Valley fever can have these costly effects:

  • Nearly 75% of people with Valley fever miss work or school.
  • Up to 40% of people who get Valley fever are hospitalized.
  • Around 60-80% of patients with Valley fever are given 1 or more rounds of antibiotics before receiving a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 

Who is at the highest risk for severe symptoms?

Adults over the age of 60 tend to be at the highest risk. Additionally, those who have compromised immune systems, have diabetes, are pregnant, along with those who are Black or Filipino. However, anyone can get Valley fever if you live or travel in an area where the fungus is present, including your pets!

Have additional questions or concerns?

This is a lot of information! If you find yourself having any questions or concerns, please reach out to your healthcare team at Mercy Grace. We accept most major insurance and are conveniently located in the Phoenix-Gilbert area. 

Schedule your appointment online or call/text us today: (480) 745-3702