Knowledge of Valley Fever is important to Arizona Center for Chest Disease patients. Valley Fever targets the lungs and is only found within the Southwest region of the United States including Arizona. We would like to educate our clients on the effects of valley fever infection.
Valley Fever is an infection caused by a fungus, Coccidioides immitis, found predominantly in the low desert areas of the southwest United States (Arizona, New Mexico, California, West Texas). The life cycle of this fungus requires the soil and climate of the Southwest and therefore unique to this climate. Infection is usually acquired through the inhalation of an aerosolized segment of the fungus which then causes a type of fungal pneumonia within the lung. Rarely, the fungus can cause infection if “inoculated” through injuries to the skin.
People infected by Coccidioides immitis, may have symptoms that range from very minor cold-like symptoms with cough, to more severe forms of pneumonia and critical illness. Most people that are exposed to Cocci have milder symptoms never require medical attention. When patients do become acutely ill and sick enough to seek medical help, they usually present to their primary care physicians with nonspecific symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue which are indistinguishable from any other community acquired pneumonia.
Acutely, the diagnosis can be established through culture of pulmonary secretions, but this usually requires a bronchoscopic procedure. After a few weeks, blood tests for serum antibodies against the fungus can be used as indirect tool for identification of recent exposure to help establish a diagnosis of infection.
Cocci pneumonia is treated with antifungal medication (fluconazole) and usually responds very well. Some infections are complicated by dissemination or spread to other organs outside of the lungs such as brain (meningitis) or bone (osteomyelitis). In patients with compromised immunity, the infection can cause respiratory failure and overwhelming infection and death.
Most people develop a residual scar or “spot” in their lungs on chest x-ray after recovery from pneumonia. This is a normal residual “granuloma” or special scar.