Ask the Expert - Valley Fever

Ask the Expert - Valley Fever

Thursday, June 15, 2017   |   Category: Sonora Quest News

As the valley fever threat rises in Arizona, here is what residents should know:

It is summer in Arizona, which means towering dust storms will blow through the desert from now until August. The dangers of these storms are well reported—from pileups on the highway to downed powerlines in our neighborhoods. But one of the biggest threats is impossible to see: an infectious agent called Coccidiodes. This family of fungi, which are native to Arizona’s desert soil, cause valley fever.

When breathed in during a dust storm, the fungi make a cozy home in your lungs causing a potentially serious infection. Valley fever can lead to neurological and respiratory problems, including meningitis and pneumonia. In rare cases, death occurs. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, valley fever took the lives of 50 Arizonans in 2015.

This is a unique epidemic to our state— the CDC estimates that 70% of valley fever cases in the U.S. occur in Arizona. To make matters worse, a new report from the journal Geophysical Research Letters notes that Arizona should brace for an increase in valley fever cases as drought conditions continue in the upcoming years.

Arizonans are at a higher risk for valley fever and here’s why:

Valley fever disproportionately affects adults over 60 and those who are immunocompromised. 

That includes HIV/ AIDS patients, those who have had an organ transplant, pregnant women, and people taking certain corticosteroids and other medications.

However, anybody who lives in Arizona is at risk. In fact, Arizona accounts for nearly 70% of all reported cases in the United States, with the three counties above reporting most cases.

The best offense is a good defense—preventing exposure is the best way to protect yourself and your family:

Since the disease-causing fungi are ubiquitous in the Arizona soil, there is not a fool-proof way to ensure you are not exposed.

Avoidance, though, is the best prevention. Stay away from dusty areas, remain inside during dust storms and wear an N95 face mask when you are unable to avoid exposure. If you are on a construction site or doing yard work, for example, you should wear an N95 mask. Packs of 20 are available at most hardware stores for around $15.

Of note, valley fever also infects animals. Do not let your pets dig up dirt, and be sure to bring them indoors during monsoon storms.

Symptoms can take weeks to develop and often seem mundane:

Initial symptoms of valley fever are often mild and easy to confuse with other illnesses like the flu. If you develop a fever, cough, fatigue, joint aches and/or a red, spotty rash, you may have valley fever.

If untreated, symptoms progress to include lesions on the skin, bones and nervous system. Meningitis or pneumonia can also develop. Seek immediate medical attention if you have these symptoms.

If you think you have valley fever, getting your blood tested is the most accurate solution:

If you are experiencing the symptoms above and suspect you’ve been exposed, you should get tested promptly. Sonora Quest Laboratories now offers the valley fever test on their My Lab ReQuest menu, meaning you don’t need a physician referral to make an appointment.

Experts note that valley fever cases are chronically underreported as early symptoms are attributed to more mundane causes. It is important to get tested as soon as symptoms begin so you can receive any necessary treatment and prevent a more severe infection.