Valley Fever Institute
1700 Mount Vernon Avenue 661.706.6748

Community Education

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What is Valley Fever?

  • A fungus that lives in the dirt in areas of
  • Southwest US.
  • Becomes airborne when dirt is disturbed by wind, farming and construction.
  • Can be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Causes an illness

Types of Valley Fever

Acute

  • Most people will have mild to no symptoms.
  • Normal recovery rate is 6 months.
  • For severe symptoms, recovery can take up to 1 year.

Chronic Valley Fever

  • Occurs more in those with weakened immune systems.
  • Symptoms are more severe and fluctuate by improving and worsening.
  • Happens when Acute Valley Fever Stage does not make a full recovery.
  • Condition progresses into chronic pneumonia.

Complications of Valley Fever

  • Infection spreads from lungs through blood to other body systems.
  • Can affect skin, liver, brain, bones, meninges and heart.
  • Signs and symptoms vary according to body system affected.
  • Can be fatal without appropriate treatment.

Common symptoms may lead to delayed diagnosis

Many people who are exposed to the fungus never have symptoms. Other people may have flu-like symptoms that can appear between 1-3 weeks after exposure, including:

Fatigue (tiredness)

Cough

Fever

Shortness of breath

Headache

Night sweats

Muscle aches or joint pain

Rash on upper body or legs

Symptoms Explained

The symptoms of Valley Fever can be similar to those of other common illnesses, so patients may have delays in getting diagnosed and treated. For many people, symptoms will go away without any treatment, after weeks or months. Healthcare providers prescribe antifungal medication for some people to try to reduce symptoms or prevent the infection from getting worse. People who have severe lung infections or infections that have spread to other parts of the body always need antifungal treatment and may need to stay in the hospital.

Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where the fungus lives in the environment can get Valley Fever. Valley Fever can affect people of any age, but it’s most common in adults ages 60 and older.

Complications of Valley Fever

  • Severe Pneumonia
  • Cavities in Lungs that cause pain and difficulty breathing
  • Skin UlcersAbscesses
  • Bone lesions
  • Inflammation of Heart
  • Joint Pain
  • Meningitis
  • Urinary track problems

Common Questions

Who is at risk for Valley Fever?

  • People who have weakened immune systems, for example, people who:
    • Have HIV/AIDS
    • Have had an organ transplant
    • Are taking medications such as corticosteroids or tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have diabetes
  • People who are black or Filipino

How is Valley fever diagnosed?

Healthcare providers rely on your medical and travel history, symptoms, physical examinations, and laboratory tests to diagnose Valley Fever. The most common way that healthcare providers test for Valley Fever is by taking a blood sample and sending it to a laboratory to look for Coccidioides antibodies or antigens.

Healthcare providers may do imaging tests such as chest x-rays or CT scans of your lungs to look for Valley Fever. They may also perform a tissue biopsy, in which a small sample of tissue is taken from the body and examined under a microscope. Laboratories may also see if Coccidioides will grow from body fluids or tissues (this is called a culture).

Where can I get tested for Valley Fever?

Any healthcare provider can order a test for Valley Fever.

How long will it take to get my test results?

It depends on the type of test. Results from a blood test will usually be available in a few days. If your healthcare provider sends a sample to a laboratory to be cultured, the results could take a few days to a couple of weeks.

How do you lower the risk of Valley Fever?

  • Avoid breathing in dirt or dust in areas where Valley Fever is more common.
  • Wet down dusty areas before working or playing in them.
  • During dust storms stay indoors with windows and doors closed.
  • Use recirculating air-conditioning in home and cars if possible.
  • If you must be outside in a dust storm wear a N95 face-mask.

Skin testing

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A skin test can detect whether you have developed an immune response to the fungus Coccidioides, the cause of Valley Fever. The test involves getting a small injection on the inside of your forearm, similar to a skin test for tuberculosis. If the test is positive, a bump will appear at the injection site. A healthcare provider must examine the injection site two days (48 hours) after the test was given to measure the size of the bump.

A positive test result means that you have an immune response to Coccidioides because of a past or current Coccidioides infection. Some people with a positive test result have been sick with Valley Fever, which can cause a flu-like illness and other symptoms, but many people with a positive test have not had symptoms from the infection. A positive skin test generally means that you are immune to Coccidioides and will not get Valley fever in the future.

A negative skin test can mean that you have not been exposed to Coccidioides and have not had Valley Fever. However, some people may not react to the skin test even though they have had a Coccidioides infection. This is called a false-negative result. False-negative results occur more commonly in people who:

  • Have had a Coccidioides infection that is recent or severe
  • Have a condition or illness that interferes with the skin test results
  • Are taking a medication that interferes with the skin test results

For more information about testing for Valley Fever, please contact the Kern Medical Valley Fever Institute at 661.706.6748.