Coccidioidomycosis, commonly known as valley fever, is a fungal infection caused by Coccidioides immitis or Coccidioides posadasii. The fungi are common in limited states in the U.S. such as Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. It's also found in Northern Mexico, and selected areas in Central and South America. The rate of coccidioidomycosis infection in these areas is from 10 to 50 percent of the population.
The fungi reside in the soil and lay dormant until the rainy season. The spores that these fungi produce are the ones able to cause infection on humans and animals that inhales them. However, not everybody who inhales the spores will develop an infection: more than half of them may show mild to even no reaction to the fungi. People of Asian, Hispanic, and African descent and those whose immune system is compromised are the only ones most likely to get ill.
The three forms of coccidioidomycosis are acute, chronic, and disseminated valley fevers.
Symptoms of coccidioidomycosis
Different forms of valley fevers have different symptoms. The disseminated form of the disease which is the worst form of all has the most severe symptoms. A patient may develop lung nodules, skin ulcers and lesions, skull, spine, and other bone lesions, inflamed knees and ankles, and he or she can develop meningitis. This form of valley fever is the deadliest.
Acute valley fever patients on the other hand may show flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pains, which can occur 1 to 3 weeks from inhalation of the fungal spores. Pimple-like rash may also appear on the back, chest arms, and the legs.
The chronic form of coccidioidomycosis can manifest as later as 20 years after inhaling the spores. The patient could develop pneumonia and symptoms similar to tuberculosis like low fever, weight loss, and cough, blood in sputum, lung nodules, and chest pain.
Complications of coccidioidomycosis
People with weakened immune systems like HIV/AIDS patients and those with Asian, Hispanic, and African descents are prone to develop complications. Severe pneumonia and ruptured lung nodules are some examples of these complications. The latter can cause collapse lungs, which needs corrective surgery and chest tube thoracotomy to relieve the pressure building around the lungs.
Disseminated valley fever can cause multiple organ damage due to the infection affecting several organs of the body. It can lead to skin ulcers and bone lesions, heart inflammation, joint pain, urinary tract problems and even meningitis.
Treatment and prevention from coccidioidomycosis infection
For mild cases of valley fever, bed rest, proper diet, and fluid intake are enough to wait out the disease. In severe cases or people with high risk of developing complications, however, antifungal is given to kill the fungi and antibacterial to eliminate secondary bacterial infection. The common antifungal drugs used to treat coccidioidomycosis are fluconazole and itraconazole. In serious infection, a patient is given intravenous antifungal such as amphotericin to treat the infection. Most people who have fought valley fever develop immunity to the disease.