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Valley fever is a disease caused by a
fungus that gets into your body through your lungs. It
can make you feel like you have a cold or the
flu and may cause a rash. Most people get better
But if your body's natural defense system (immune system) is weak, valley fever can be deadly. In
rare cases it can be deadly even for people with a normal immune system. Valley
fever can spread from your lungs to other parts of your body. Those at higher risk for severe
illness include pregnant women, people who have
HIV infection, people who take medicines that
weaken the immune system, and people who have diabetes. Filipinos, African
Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans also have a higher risk of dying from valley fever.footnote 1
Valley fever occurs mainly in dry desert areas of the southwestern United
States, central California, and Mexico. It also occurs in dry areas of Central
and South America.
Valley fever is also called desert fever, San Joaquin Valley
fever, coccidioidomycosis, and desert rheumatism.
You can get valley fever if you breathe in the fungus (Coccidioides immitis) that causes
The fungus grows in the soil. It gets into the air when the ground
is broken and the dirt and dust spread into the air. People with jobs that
require digging in the soil have the greatest chance of getting valley fever.
This includes people who work on farms, in construction, and in archeology or
paleontology. People who ride bikes or drive all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in the
desert also have a higher chance of getting it. Dust storms can spread the
fungus into the air, so other people can also get valley fever.
Valley fever is not contagious. You cannot get it from another person or from animals.
After getting better, most people will not get valley fever again.
This is called being immune. But valley fever can come back again in people who
have weak immune systems and can't fight infection. This includes people who
have HIV, are taking medicine that suppresses the immune system (such as prednisone or methotrexate), or have had an
Most people don't have any symptoms, or they have only very mild
symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may feel like you have a cold or the
flu. You may have a fever, chills, chest pain, a dry cough, and a rash.
The time from contact with the fungus until symptoms start is
usually 1 to 3 weeks. This is called the
In rare cases, valley fever can spread to the skin, bones,
lymph nodes, and organs. It can lead to
meningitis, a very serious infection of the coverings
around the brain and spinal cord.
The disease is more likely to spread to other areas of the body in
people who have weak immune systems. This includes pregnant
women, people who have HIV, people who take medicines that weaken the immune system, and people who have
Talk with your doctor if your symptoms are severe or last more than
a few weeks, or if you have a weak immune system and have valley fever.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He
or she may ask if you have traveled in areas where valley fever occurs. You may
have a chest
X-ray and a blood test to look for the fungus. In some cases, the doctor may take samples of body tissues for a biopsy.
Most people with valley fever get better without treatment. For
severe cases, doctors may prescribe antifungal medicines. People who are more
likely to have the disease spread to other areas of the body often get
antifungal medicines even if they have no symptoms.
To make sure you are getting better, it's important to have
follow-up visits with your doctor. You may have a chest X-ray or another blood
test after several months to make sure.
There is no medicine to prevent valley fever. But you may be able
to stay away from areas where valley fever is common.
Huang JY, et al. (2012). Coccidioidomycosis-associated
deaths, United States, 1990–2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 18(11): 1723–1728.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Coccidioidomycosis. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2012 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 29th ed., pp. 289–291. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
American Public Health Association (2008).
Coccidioidomycosis. In DL Heymann, ed., Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 19th ed., pp. 139–141. Washington, DC: American Public
Davies SF, et al. (2010). Fungal infections. In RJ Mason et al., eds., Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 5th ed., vol. 1, pp.
811–849. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Tsang CA, et al. (2010). Enhanced surveillance of
USA, 2007–2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 16(11): 1738–1744.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerW. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Current as ofAugust 5, 2014
Current as of:
August 5, 2014
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
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