Fungus common in Arizona causes Valley fever

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Fungus common in Arizona causes Valley fever

Have you lived in Arizona for five years or more? No doubt you’ve been exposed to Valley fever even if you did not develop symptoms. Caused by breathing fungal spores ofcoccidioides, Valley fever can cause such symptoms as fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and rash. The symptoms closely resemble the flu or a bad cold.

Learn more about this geographically specific disease in a Q&A with Jennifer Vanyo-Novak, DO, a family medicine physician in the HonorHealth Medical Group.

Need a family physician? Turn to a knowledgeable family medicine provider in the HonorHealth Medical Group.

Q. Do most Arizonans get Valley fever during monsoon season when dust storms famously roll through the Valley?

A: You can get it other times of the year, too. In fact, local media reported that in November 2017, the number of Valley fever cases reported in the state reached the highest monthly total in more than two years.

Q. Should you avoid being outside during dust storms?

A: If possible, stay inside. If you have to be outside, wear a mask.

Q. Are you at higher risk of getting Valley fever if you like to garden?

A: Yes. If you live by a construction site where dirt is being moved, you’re outside during a monsoon, or you’re outside gardening, your risk goes up. You can see why we’ve all been exposed to it after five years in the Valley.

Q. Can you get Valley fever more than once?

A: Yes, you can. But the second time, you won’t get as sick from it.

Q. Do some people get a worse case of Valley fever than others?

A: Yes. Most of us don’t get sick from it. But some can get very ill, suffering from an intense cough, intense fatigue, shortness of breath, and night sweats. You can get a rash that resembles eczema on your trunk and arms; the rash can come on quickly. If you don’t get treated for the infection, the rash can develop later. Seventy-five percent of those with a bad case of Valley fever will miss a day of work or school.

Also, there’s a type of meningitis that’s caused by Valley fever; you’ll be quite sick if you have meningitis. You’ll be on medication for the rest of your life.

Q. What’s the treatment?

A: Your level of infection from the fungus determines if you’ll receive treatment for it. Your doctor will prescribe an oral drug called fluconazole. It can be expensive, but your doctor can advise you on ways to help pay for it, if necessary. With a bad case of Valley fever, you’ll be on it from three to six months to eliminate the fungus completely from your body. Your doctor will do lab tests and CT scans to see when you’re free of the fungus.

If you need to be hospitalized for Valley fever, the average cost of your stay is $50,000.

Q. Do you always need treatment for Valley fever?

A: No, not everyone needs treatment. However, if you need it and don’t get it, Valley fever will come back.

Q. Does Valley fever cause you to get a spot on your lung?

A: It can happen. You might or might not have had symptoms of the disease, but your doctor later sees a spot on an X-ray. The spot is caused when your immune system walls off the fungus spores, forming scar tissue or a granuloma — a collection of immune cells called histiocytes or macrophages.

Q. Who’s most likely to get a bad case of Valley fever?

A: If you’re:

  • 60 or older.
  • Have HIV/AIDS.
  • On a biologic medication for another ailment.

Q. How are you tested for Valley fever?

A: There’s a new test for it called GeneSTAT that can help doctors better diagnose it quickly. Instead of a test that depends on a culture that takes up to 21 days to grow the fungus, the new test provides same-day results. It’s most beneficial to patients hospitalized for suspected Valley fever; your doctor can pinpoint the cause of the infection and start targeted treatment much sooner.