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Valley Fever in California: On the Rise

If you live in the Fresno, California area, you know that common colds and seasonal flu aren’t the only sicknesses you need to look out for. Valley Fever, a fungal infection, is once again on the rise in the western part of the United States. Experts believe California’s extremely dry conditions and drought are the two largest contributors to the outbreak. With extensive data collected over several decades, researchers found that several years of dry conditions followed up with wet conditions amplified the spread of Valley fever. As temperatures have only been on the rise in recent years, the number of cases has followed suit.

Valley Fever is not as common as seasonal colds and flu, and many people at risk for the condition are not familiar with the signs, symptoms, and treatment options. Read on to help you and your family stay protected this season.

What is Valley Fever in California?

Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis or “San Joaquin Valley fever,” is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides. It is typically found in the soil in the southwestern United States, some areas in Mexico, and in Central and South America. Most people can catch Valley fever by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores in the air, however, a large portion of them do not get sick and can recover on their own within a few weeks or a months. There are some outlying cases where those who catch Valley fever will require an antifungal medication, especially those populations who are at higher risk for becoming ill. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent exposure to Coccidioides, but the best precaution you can take is avoiding breathing in large amounts of dust in those areas and doing your best to stay indoors during windy conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of Valley Fever?

Many people who have been exposed to the fungus never have symptoms at all, while others who do exhibit symptoms may find that theirs go away on their own after a few weeks or months. If you have contracted Valley fever, symptoms could typically appear between 1-3 weeks after you breathe in the fungus. The best thing you can do is monitor your symptoms, track whether they are improving, and contact your healthcare provider if you are not seeing improvement or if they are getting worse over time. Only about 5-10% of people who get Valley fever develop any serious or long-term complications in their lungs, and the percentage of people who experience more widespread symptoms is even smaller.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches and pains

How Long Does Valley Fever Last?

Those who have contracted Valley Fever can usually expect symptoms to last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Some patients have reported that their symptoms lasted longer, especially with severe infections. In that case, seeing a doctor immediately is the best course of action.

Is Valley Fever Contagious?

The short answer: no! The fungus that causes Valley fever cannot spread from the lungs between people or between people and animals. If you, yourself, have come down with Valley Fever or you are caring for someone who is affected, there is no risk of catching or spreading it.

Who Is at the Highest Risk for Valley Fever?

As cases are on the rise in southwestern part of the United States, anyone who resides or travels to Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, or New Mexico has the highest risk of contracting Valley fever. This infection can affect anyone at any age, but it most commonly shows up in populations over the age of 60, especially in those who have weakened immune systems, those who are pregnant, and those with diabetes. It commonly impacts those who work outdoors or in dusty environments where it can easily spread such as farm workers, construction workers, and firefighters.

How Do You Prevent Valley Fever?

If you live in a highly concentrated area where cases are on the rise, it can be difficult to avoid breathing in the fungus, but along with simply staying out of dusty areas, here are a few helpful tips to do your best to prevent Valley fever:

  • Wear a mask or face covering outside in dusty areas
  • Stay inside during storms with your windows closed
  • Avoid activities that can stir up dust or dirt such as yard work or gardening
  • Use air filtration systems inside if possible
  • To take extreme precautions, take preventative antifungal medication if advised by your healthcare provider

Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine for Valley fever but scientists have been working on one for decades.

What Happens if You Contract Valley Fever?

For many people, symptoms will clear up in a few months without medical intervention, but if you are part of a higher-risk population, a healthcare provider may prescribe antifungal medication to lessen the severity of the symptoms. The treatment typically lasts between 3-6 months and there are no over-the-counter medications to treat the infection at this time. While it’s best to reach out to your provider if you believe you have Valley fever, the good news is that it is not contagious and isolation is not necessary to avoid spreading the infection. However, resting at home may help speed up the process of fighting it off.

If long-term effects are your concern, there is little need to worry. Most people who have contracted Valley fever make a full recovery and it has been reported that only a very small percentage of people develop long-term lung infections. In severe cases, the nervous system may suffer damage, but these cases are very rare.

As Valley Fever cases are on the rise in the southwestern part of the United States, we hope these tips can help you and your family stay aware, stay healthy, and understand the signs, symptoms, and treatment options. At BUDDIGA | Family Allergy Skin Immunology, we’re here to help ensure you’re feeling your best by accurately diagnosing, treating, and managing your allergy and immunology symptoms. If you think you may have Valley Fever, or are suffering from common respiratory conditions like asthma and seasonal allergies, we’re here to help. Set up your comprehensive consultation with Dr. Buddiga, leading allergy and immunology specialist in the Fresno area, here.

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