Do You Have Valley Fever? How Can You Tell?
There are around 10,000 cases of Valley Fever each year in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So why don’t hear much about it? Part of the reason the public so poorly understands it is the symptoms mimic that of a cold or flu, so often it goes untreated. The key to knowing if you have valley fever or not is understanding what it is and how it affects you.
What is Valley Fever?
Although it probably feels like a cold or flu bug, valley fever is a fungal infection, medically known as coccidioidomycosis. People who live in the southwestern United States, specifically Arizona or California, have a higher risk of exposure to the fungus.
Why Does the Southwestern US have a Greater Risk?
The fungus that causes valley fever thrives in the dry, desert-like soil found in Arizona, California, the south-central regions of Washington state along with parts of Mexico and Central America. People there can breathe in the fungus, exposing the lungs to the infection.
Inhaling the fungus from soil is the only way to contract this illness, as well. Unlike the cold or flu, it is not passed from person to person or even from animal to person. The wind can pick up spores from the fungus, though and blow them hundreds of miles from their source.
What are the Symptoms of Valley Fever?
The symptoms of this infection make it difficult to spot. They are similar to many illnesses including infectious diseases like influenza. Symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- A cough
- A headache
- Night Sweats
- Joint pain
Some people also develop a rash on their upper body or legs. If you look at other illnesses like the common cold, for example, you see why there is confusion.
Symptoms of a cold include:
- Shortness of breath
- A headache
- Body aches
- Sinus pain
There are just enough similarities that people can have valley fever and never know it. The common cold, though, and the flu are bacterial infections while valley fever comes from a fungus.
Valley fever can also be chronic and lead to complications like nodules in the lungs. People with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of chronic valley fever.
How is Valley Fever Diagnosed and Treated?
Valley fever is tough to diagnose. The only sure way is to look for the organisms in a sputum sample. In some cases, the body may develop antibodies, as well, and those are detectable in the blood.
Treatment is a combination of rest and antifungal medications. The downside is antifungal drugs can have unpleasant side effects like nausea or diarrhea. Not getting treatment, though, can lead to complications like the disseminated disease. With this condition, the fungus spreads to other areas of the body leading to abscesses, lesions on the bone and heart inflammation.
The possible complications of valley fever mean you don’t want to ignore it. Backfit has offices throughout Arizona and can offer a complimentary assessment or set you up with a general practitioner for evaluation. Contact Backfit today to make an appointment.