Valley Fever in Arizona, California, Texas, Mexico, Central and South America

Geographic_Distribution_of_Coccidioidomycosis_02
Valley Fever distribution-see green areas on map|Wikipedia
Called “The Devil in the Dust” in the April, 2012, issue of St. Joseph’s Magazine, Valley Fever is caused by the coccidioides fungi species that grows in the soil of Arizona and other dry desert areas of the southwestern United States, including central California, southern Utah, Nevada, and Western Texas around El Paso. Valley Fever also occurs in the Pacific costal region of Mexico and Central and South America.

Allergy Climates first brought you an item submitted by one of our readers about Arizona Valley Fever in our June 6, 2007, post. Recently, when a reader commented about Valley Fever here at Allergy Climates, I was reminded that we are long overdue for an update. Progress has been made in research of the disease in the past five years, yet it continues to spread in the affected areas when soil carrying Valley Fever spores, also called arthroconidia, are dispersed into the air by farming, construction, and wind storms, then breathed into the lungs.

Valley Fever spores
Valley Fever (arthroconidia) spores|courtesy Wikipedia

Symptoms may be so slight the infection is only discovered by a later positive skin or blood test, or nodules on the lungs, according to a Mayo Clinic article which reads, “Although the nodules typically don’t cause problems, they can look like tumors on X-ray.” According to this article, symptoms resemble those of the flu, sometimes accompanied by a rash, and can become chronic with low-grade fever, weight loss, cough, chest pain, and, as previously mentined, lung nodules. In its most serious form, the infection disseminates (spreads) to the skin (nodules and ulcers), bones, joints, and brain. Filipinos, Hispanics, blacks, Native Americans, and Asians, along with pregnant women, diabetics, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop the serious forms of the disease according to the Mayo Clinic article.

The April, 2012, issue of St. Joseph’s Magazine reports that “approximately one third of those exposed to the spore will contract valley fever.” According to this report, the disease kills 35-45 people per year in Arizona alone, and can leave people disabled for life. This issue features the new Valley Fever Center on the campus of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. The new Center is directed by John Galgiani, M.D., who also founded The Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Tucson in 1996. The April issue also includes pictures of recent Arizona dust storms, as well as current information about Arizona’s Valley Fever.

According to the May 1, 2007, issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, the condition which would later be known as Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) was first discovered by a medical student in Buenos Aires in 1892. The patient was an Argentinian soldier who had been experiencing worsening skin lesions for about three years. Soon afterward, an immigrant from the Azores who was working in agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley developed similar symptoms. He was taken to a hospital in San Francisco where he was found to have Valley Fever. According to a Tutorial for Primary Care Professionals prepared by the Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Tucson, by 1935, this infection was common in the San Joaquin Valley, where it got its namem “Valley Fever.” By the 1940’s Valley Fever, also known as Cocci, Desert Rheumatism, and San Joaquin Fever, was well-known in southern Arizona where it remains a serious threat today.

The California Department of Public Health reports that half of the estimated 150,000 Coccidioides infections that occur each year in the United States do not produce symptoms. The CDPH says that there is currently no vaccine, but efforts to develop a vaccine are ongoing. According to The CDPH, “Those exposed to dust during their jobs or outside activities in these areas should consider respiratory protection, such as a mask, during such activities.”

A Phoenix Business Journal report published October 4, 2011, states “Of the 150,000 new Valley fever infections each year, two-thirds affect Arizonans — the majority of them in Maricopa County…. And the numbers are increasing.”

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