Valley Fever

What is valley fever?

Valley fever is an infection caused by a fungus. You can get the infection if you breathe in the fungus germs. The germs are found in soil and dust in certain dry climates.

What increases my risk for valley fever?

You are at risk if you live in or have recently traveled to an area where the fungus is found. It is found in parts of the United States, Mexico, and Central America. In the United States, most cases of valley fever occur in Arizona and California. The risk increases after a drought, earthquake, or dust storm. The following also increase your risk:

  • Your immune system is weak. This can happen if you are pregnant, or if you have HIV, cancer, or diabetes. Your immune system can also become weak if you take certain medications for a long time, such as steroids. An organ transplant an also weaken your immune system.

  • You are a construction worker, farm worker, archaeologist, or excavator. This is because the fungus germs can become airborne when soil is moved.

  • You have done military training in an area where the fungus germs are found.

What are the signs and symptoms of valley fever?

You may develop the following flu-like symptoms 1 to 4 weeks after you breathe in the fungus:

  • Tiredness or headache

  • Cough or trouble breathing

  • Fever, chills, or night sweats

  • Chest, joint, or muscle pain

  • A rash

  • Tender, swollen, red lumps on your legs

  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

How is valley fever diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and how long you have had them. He will listen to your heart and lungs. He will ask you all of the places you have traveled. He may ask if you work outside. You may need more than one of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: Your blood may be tested for the fungus that causes valley fever.

  • Mucus culture or skin culture: Your caregiver may swab your throat or the inside of your nose to get a mucus sample. He may ask you to cough mucus into a cup. The mucus is tested for the fungus that causes valley fever. Your caregiver will use a cotton swab to get a sample from an open rash or wound. The sample is tested for signs of infection.

  • Chest x-ray: Caregivers use x-rays to check for signs of infection, such as swelling and fluid around your lungs.

  • Biopsy: Your caregiver may take a tissue sample from your lungs or an open skin wound. This tissue is sent to a lab and tested for signs of infection.

How is valley fever treated?

Valley fever will go away on its own most of the time. It may take a few months before all of your symptoms go away. You may need more than one of the following medicines:

  • Cough medicine: This may soothe your throat and decrease your urge to cough. It may help you sleep if coughing keeps you awake.

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's doctor.

  • Antifungal medicine: You may need this medicine to kill the fungus if you are severely ill or have a weak immune system.

What are the risks of valley fever?

You may cough up blood. Pus or other fluid could collect around your lungs. You could develop a mass on your lungs. Scar tissue could form on your lungs. You can develop a long-term lung infection. The infection could spread to your joints, bones, or lymph nodes. Your lungs could fail to pump enough oxygen into your blood. You could develop meningitis. Lung failure and meningitis are rare from valley fever but can be life-threatening. Your symptoms may come back, sometimes even years after you had the infection.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Get plenty of rest: Rest often while you recover. Slowly start to do more each day.

  • Use a humidifier: Use a cool-mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe, and help decrease your cough.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve within 2 months.

  • You have night sweats for longer than 3 weeks.

  • Your lymph nodes are swollen.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have severe chest pain.

  • You have trouble breathing, or your breathing seems faster and more shallow than normal.

  • Your lips or nails turn blue.

  • You are confused or very sleepy.

  • You cough up blood.

  • You have a headache, a stiff neck, and a fever.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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