What is Valley Fever?
Valley Fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by a fungus, Coccidioides, found in some environments. There are two main types of the fungus that cause Valley Fever: Coccidioides immitis and Coccidioides posadasii; there is no difference in illness between different types. The fungus can affect a person's lungs or other parts of the body in severe cases.
Where is the fungus found?
Coccidioides lives in soil in areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures, and moderate winter temperatures. Coccidioides is fairly common in the Southwestern United States, including Arizona and Central California, part of Mexico and Central and South America. The fungus has also been found elsewhere, including recently in our state.
Where is Coccidioides found in Washington?
Coccidioides immitis has been found in soils of south-central Washington. However, the extent of the locations where the fungus may be in Washington is not fully known. The Department of Health has reports of people who were exposed to Valley Fever in Yakima, Benton, Franklin, and Walla Walla counties. Environmental sampling efforts have found the fungus in soil from Benton, Kittitas and Yakima counties; limited sampling has been done in other Washington counties, so the geographic range is still undefined.
How do you get Valley Fever?
People can get Valley Fever by breathing in Coccidioides spores, generally from dust or disturbed soil (for example, construction, digging, dust storm, or earthquake). Animals, including pets, can also become infected this way. Valley Fever does not spread from person to person or from animals to people.
What are the symptoms of Valley Fever?
About 6 out of 10 people who are infected with the fungus will never have symptoms. Other people may have mild symptoms that usually go away on their own after weeks to months. If symptoms last for more than a week, contact your healthcare provider for evaluation and possible medication.
Symptoms of Valley Fever include:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- In rare cases, the spores get into a person's skin through a cut, wound, or splinter and cause a skin infection
Can Valley Fever be serious?
Up to 1 out of 10 people who have Valley Fever symptoms develop serious or long-term problems in their lungs. In even fewer people about—about 1 out of 100—the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body, such as the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), skin, or bones and joints.
How soon do symptoms appear?
Symptoms usually appear one to three weeks after exposure to the fungus. However, the infection and symptoms can come back months to years after the time of the first infection.
Who is at risk?
Although the risk is very low, anyone can get Valley Fever, even young and healthy people. Those at higher risk for severe illness include people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, people who have diabetes, people taking chronic corticosteroid therapy, and people who are of African or Filipino descent.
What can I do to prevent Valley Fever?
It's very difficult to avoid breathing in the fungus Coccidioides in areas where it's common in the environment. People who live in these areas can try to avoid spending time in dusty places as much as possible. Be alert for symptoms and consult a healthcare provider for early diagnosis and treatment.
What is being done about Valley Fever?
The Department of Health is working with local public health partners, healthcare providers, and veterinarians to raise awareness that Valley Fever can be acquired in Washington. These medical professionals should report any suspected cases to public health officials. Reporting cases helps public health officials identify and investigate where the fungus lives and keep track of the number of cases over time.
For Public Health Partners