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Ask the Expert to Understand Arizona’s Valley Fever

Ask the Expert to Understand Arizona’s Valley Fever

Friday, November 11, 2016   |   Category: Sonora Quest News

Valley Fever Awareness Week is Nov. 12-20

Living in the arid Southwest, most Arizonians have heard of valley fever. The wind-borne infection is caused by inhaled spores of a fungus called Coccidioides, which thrives in dry, sandy desert soils, and affects more people in Arizona than in any other state, including more than twice as many as in California, the state with the second highest number of reported cases of this illness.

Sonora Quest Laboratories’ clinical microbiologist, Dr. Mike Saubolle, explains this fungal lung infection, its cause and symptoms, risk factors, how it impacts your overall health, and how desert dwellers can take preventative measures to protect themselves against this potentially devastating illness.

 

What causes Valley fever?


Dr. Saubolle: Valley fever is an infection caused by the Coccidioides fungus, which grows primarily in the sandy soil of certain parts of the country, including the lower deserts of Arizona from Yuma to Tucson to the Phoenix area. Spores of the fungus can become airborne, particularly during or after dust storms. If inhaled, an infection may develop, and one to three or four weeks later symptoms may begin to appear.


What are the symptoms of Valley fever?


Dr. Saubolle: The good news is that two-thirds of infections do not produce an illness sufficient to warrant medical attention. However, for those that do, the most common symptoms are those of pneumonia: fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Headaches are frequent, and other common symptoms include joint aches, rashes, and severe fatigue.

 

What are the dangers or long-term health impacts of Valley fever?


Dr. Saubolle: Fortunately, most people eventually control their infection because of a cellular immune response. After that, they have life-long resistance to a second infections. In a few patients, this immunity does not develop and for them medical treatments are needed to control the infection, often for years, and sometimes for the rest of their lives.


Who is most at-risk for catching Valley fever?


Dr. Saubolle: Anyone who lives or visits areas where this fungus thrives in the soil is at risk of Valley fever, including residents or travelers primarily to southern Arizona and California. People with a weakened immune system, such as those with an illness like AIDS, those taking immunosuppressing treatments for an organ transplant or rheumatologic disease, or people who are pregnant are at a higher risk of developing a more serious infection.


Is Valley Fever contagious?


Dr. Saubolle: Valley fever is not contagious and cannot be spread from an infected person.


How many people are diagnosed with Valley fever in Arizona each year?


Dr. Saubolle: Over 5,000 new infections are reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services each year; however, this likely only represents a third of those who seek medical attention for their illness, but are not accurately diagnosed with valley fever.


Is there a test, or tests, to learn if you have Valley fever?


Dr. Saubolle: Several tests can be used to aid in the diagnosis, including blood tests that look for antibodies that usually arise in response to a valley fever infection. Sonora Quest Laboratories offers tests that can assist in making a diagnosis of valley fever.


Does a doctor need to request this test or can a patient order it?


Dr. Saubolle: Through Sonora Quest Laboratories’ direct access testing service called “My Lab ReQuest™”, patients can order the Valley Fever Evaluation without a doctor’s order. Valley fever is difficult to diagnosis because symptoms are typically vague and tend to overlap with other illnesses, so additional tests may be recommended by your doctor. Always discuss your symptoms and concerns with a healthcare provider.


Is there a vaccine? How can people avoid getting Valley fever?


Dr. Saubolle: There is no preventative vaccine for valley fever. The most important protection is to know about valley fever, and to educate people in your life who live or visit the areas where this infection occurs. An early or timely diagnosis can reduce further illness.


To learn more about valley fever visit www.vfce.arizona.edu. To learn more about ordering your own laboratory test, visit My Lab ReQuest