Valley Fever Symptoms in Humans – Coccidioidomycosis

Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis is a fungal lung infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides immitis and Coccidioides posadasii. Valley fever symptoms in humans can be similar to those of other respiratory illnesses.    

The fungus lives in the southwestern United States, parts of Mexico, and Central and South American soil. Recently the fungus has also been found in southern Washington.

The disease can enter people by inhaling fungus spores through the air. However, most spore inhalers do not get sick. Valley fever sick people usually get better on their own after a few weeks or months, but some people need antifungals.

Symptoms of Valley Fever Disease

Valley fever symptoms in humans (Coccidioidomycosis) appear one to three weeks after exposure. [1] 

Coccidioidomycosis infection is the initial, or acute form of this disease. The initial stage of coccidioidomycosis can progress to more severe conditions, chronic and disseminated.     

 Acute Valley Fever Symptoms

Valley fever’s initial or acute stage is usually mild and has few or no symptoms. They typically resemble flu symptoms. The valley fever symptoms in humans can range from mild to severe, including:  

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Coldness
  • Fatigue
  • Sweat during the night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle soreness and aches in joints 

A red, blotchy rash, mainly on the lower legs, appears. However, sometimes rash can appear on the arm, back, and chest. 

If you are not sick or have valley fever symptoms, you may not know that you are infected with coccidioidomycosis until later.  

You can know the presence of disease in you when your blood or skin test is positive or when an X-ray shows small remnants in your lungs (nodules). Usually, nodules do not cause any problems, but they may look like cancer on an X-ray.

The illness course is very different if you notice severe symptoms of valley fever disease. Complete recovery may take months. Joint pain and tiredness may last longer. 

The severity of the illness depends on several factors, including your health and the number of disease spores you breathe in.

Also Read: Most Common Viruses in Humans

Chronic Coccidioidomycosis

Initial or acute valley fever in humans can develop into a chronic form if it is not completely resolved.

Chronic coccidioidomycosis is a long term-effect of this disease. The chronic form can develop months after a person contracts the acute form. 

Most people infected by coccidioides fungi do not develop chronic forms of pulmonary coccidioidomycosis. Pulmonary coccidioidomycosis mainly occurs in people with weakened immune systems.

Chronic coccidioidomycosis symptoms are similar to those of tuberculosis. A patient suffering from chronic from may experience the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Chronic cough
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Aches in muscles
  • Blood-tinged sputum

Disseminated Valley Fever

Disseminated valley fever is a severe form of coccidioidomycosis, and is rare. This form occurs when the infection spreads to other body parts outside the lungs.

Mostly these parts are the skin, liver, bones, heart, brain, and membrane protecting the spinal cord and brain.

Disseminated coccidioidomycosis symptoms and signs may be similar to those of Tuberculosis, Melioidosis, and Marneffei. [2]

Symptoms of disseminated valley fever depend on the affected body part and can include:

  • More severe skin lesions, ulcers, and nodules than the rashes that sometimes happen with other forms of the disease.
  • Painful sores on the skull, spine, or other bones
  • Swollen, painful joints, particularly ankles or knees
  • Infection in fluid and membrane, engulfing brain and spinal cord (Meningitis)

Valley Fever Diagnosis

Diagnosis of valley fever is difficult in part because the disease symptoms are confused with those of CAP (community-acquired pneumonia). [3]

In diagnosing coccidioidomycosis, one or more of the following tests may be performed by your doctor.

  • Blood test (to check coccidiosis fungi in your blood) [4]
  • X-ray or CT scan of the chest (to look for lung damage)
  • Sputum culture test to look for coccidioides fungi (Sputum: mucus from lungs during cough)

How Valley Fever is Treated

Valley fever in many people does not need treatment as the infection disappears within a few months. Antifungal drugs can be prescribed to some people to reduce the symptom severity or prevent the disease from worsening. [5]

People at a higher risk of developing severe coccidioidomycosis are usually given antifungals.

Generally, antifungal medicine, fluconazole, or other antifungals are given in treatment for three to six (3-6) months. No over-the-counter medications are there to treat valley fever. Talk to your doctor about whether you need treatment if you have valley fever.

People having severe lung infections that spread to other body parts always require antifungal medicines and may need to be hospitalized. The duration of treatment for such infections is generally more than six months.

How to Prevent Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)

Although it is difficult to avoid inhaling coccidioides spores if you live where these spores are common, here are some steps that can help prevent valley fever. These steps can help you to reduce the risk of getting valley fever.

  • Try to avoid places where your chances of exposure to dirt or dust. If you must go to such areas, use an N95 face mask to help filter out fungal spores from the air you breathe.
  • During dust storms, stay inside and close windows.
  • Avoid dirt or dust close contact activities – gardening, digging, or yard work.
  • Use methods such as indoor air filters.
  • Clean the skin wound thoroughly with soap and water to lower the risk of developing skin infection, particularly if the wound is exposed to dirt or dust.
  • As a preventive measure, take an antifungal medicine if your doctor recommends it.

Conclusion

Coccidioidomycosis (valley fever) is caused by the fungal spores of Coccidioides immitis or Coccidioides posadasii through the air.

Valley fever symptoms in humans range from mild to severe, including fever, cough, headache, fatigue, etc. In cases of chronic infection, symptoms include weight loss, muscle aches, blood-tinged septum, chest pain, and cough.

In disseminated valley fever, symptoms include severe skin lesions, ulcers, painful skull sores, swollen and painful joints, and meningitis.

In most cases, no medicine is required to treat valley fever as the immune system clears the infection.

People from certain groups, like HIV/AID patients, organ transplanted people, pregnant women, diabetics, blacks, or Filipinos, are at higher risk of becoming severely ill.

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