Valley Fever (Coccidiomycosis) Awareness
What You Need to Know
- Valley fever is a serious, costly illness.
- The fungus that causes Valley fever is found in soil in the southwestern United States, parts of Mexico and Central America, and parts of South America. It has also been found in south-central Washington state.
- The symptoms of Valley fever can be similar to those of other respiratory illnesses.
- People who have symptoms of Valley fever and live in, work in, or have visited an area where the fungus is common should ask their doctor to test them for Valley fever.
Valley fever is a fungal lung infection that can be devastating. Learning about Valley fever can help you and your doctor recognize the symptoms early.
Valley fever is an infection caused by a fungus that lives in the soil. About 20,000 cases are reported in the United States each year, mostly from Arizona and California, and the number of cases is increasing. Valley fever can be misdiagnosed because its symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses. Here are some important things to know about Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis.
From Soil to Lungs
The fungus that causes Valley fever, Coccidioides, is found in soil in the southwestern United States (see map), parts of Mexico and Central America, and parts of South America. It has also been found in south-central Washington State. The fungus might also live in similar areas with hot, dry climates. People can get Valley fever by breathing in the microscopic fungus from the air in these areas. Valley fever does not spread from person to person.
Common Symptoms May Lead to Delayed Diagnosis
Many people who are exposed to the fungus never have symptoms. Other people may have symptoms that include:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Rash on upper body or legs
The symptoms of Valley fever can be similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, which may cause delays in diagnosis and treatment. For many people, symptoms go away within weeks or months without any treatment. But healthcare providers may prescribe antifungal medicine for some people to reduce symptoms or prevent the infection from getting worse. People who have severe lung infections or infections that have spread to other parts of the body always need antifungal treatment and may need to stay in the hospital.
People at Risk
Valley fever is a serious, costly illness
- Nearly 75% of people with Valley fever miss work or school
- As many as 40% of people who get Valley fever are hospitalized
- The average cost of a hospital stay for a person with Valley fever is almost $50,000
- About 60–80% of patients with Valley fever are given one or more rounds of antibiotics before receiving a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment
Anyone can get Valley fever if they live in, work in, or travel to an area where the fungus lives in the environment. Valley fever can affect people of any age, but it’s most common in adults aged 60 and older. Also, certain groups of people may be at higher risk for developing the severe forms of Valley fever, such as:
- People who have weakened immune systems, which may include people who:
- Have HIV
- Have had an organ transplant
- Are taking medications such as corticosteroids or tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors
- Pregnant people
- People who have diabetes
- People who are Black or Filipino
Awareness Is Key
In areas where Valley fever is common, it’s difficult to completely avoid exposure to the fungus because it is in the environment. There is no vaccine to prevent infection. That’s why knowing about Valley fever is one of the most important ways to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment. People who have symptoms of Valley fever and live in, work in, or have visited an area where the fungus is common should ask their doctor to test them for Valley fever. Healthcare providers should be aware that Valley fever symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and should consider testing for Valley fever in patients with pneumonia symptoms who live in or have traveled to an area where Coccidioides lives.
What CDC Is Doing
- Raising awareness. CDC, state and local health departments, and other agencies are working together to create resources and educate the public and healthcare providers about Valley fever to reduce delays in diagnosis and treatment and to improve people’s health.
- Surveillance. In many states, healthcare providers and laboratories are required to report Valley fever cases to public health authorities. Disease reporting allows government officials to monitor trends in Valley fever cases and expansion from climate change, and to examine the burden of disease, like cost.
- Advanced molecular detection. CDC has been developing new tools that make it faster and easier to detect Coccidioides, the fungus that causes Valley fever, in the environment. CDC is also using whole genome sequencing on environmental and patient samples to investigate new areas where this fungus is living and causing illness.
- Research on testing and treatment. CDC is studying new laboratory tests to diagnose Valley fever faster and is assisting other health agencies with studies to understand the best treatment for Valley fever.
This map shows CDC’s current estimate of where the fungus that causes Valley fever lives in the environment in the United States. The fungus is not distributed evenly in the shaded areas, might not be present everywhere in the shaded areas, and can also be outside the shaded areas. Darker shading shows areas where the fungus is more likely to live. Diagonal lines show the potential range of the fungus.
Join CDC in sharing information to increase awareness in your community about fungal diseases during Fungal Disease Awareness Week, September 19–23, 2022.