How many of you remember “The Valley Girl” stereotype? Those upper middle class ditzy airheads from the early 80’s? Who created their own language – valleyspeak? They were all “like”, “way”, “as if”, and “whatever”! I grew up in that era. I was never ditzy but I had the valleyspeak lingo perfected and drove my parents insane! So what’s the connection to this week’s blog on Valley Fever? Aside from the use of “Valley” and fact that “California” is seeing an uptick in infections nothing. But I’m guessing for those of you that remember the early ‘80’s you’ve had a nice trip down memory lane.
So what is Valley Fever? It’s an illness caused by a fungus found in the soil and dirt of some areas of the southwestern United States, parts of Mexico and Central and South America. In California, the fungus is found in many areas of the San Joaquin Valley (Central Valley)…..home of the Valley Girls! People get Valley Fever by breathing in the microscopic, airborne fungal spores. Sometimes, the number of people with Valley Fever increases after there have been weather-related events that stir up more dust than usual, such as earthquakes or dust storms.
Anyone who lives in, works in, or visits a place with Valley Fever can be infected. It usually infects the lungs and can cause flu-like symptoms or pneumonia. In most people the infection will go away on its own but all persons with symptoms should see a healthcare provider. Although it can be difficult to prevent Valley Fever, the best way to reduce your risk is to avoid breathing in dirt or dust in areas where Valley Fever is common.
Also called Coccidioidomycosis, this fungus infects not only people but can infect many species of animals, however, dogs are affected most significantly. The disease varies from inapparent (cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats) to progressive, disseminated, and fatal (dogs, nonhuman primates, and cats). Exposed dogs can develop immunity to valley fever and never become ill, but when symptoms occur they can include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, lameness, swelling of bones or joints, significant weight loss with muscle wasting, enlarged lymph nodes, skin ulcers and draining sores, inflammation of the cornea or iris of the eye, seizures, and heart failure.
Coccidioides immitis is the particular fungus native to the San Joaquin Valley of California and by Coccidioides posadasii is the species endemic to certain arid-to-semiarid areas of the southwestern United States, northern portions of Mexico, and scattered areas in Central America and South America. Interestingly enough, although the two species are genetically distinct, they are morphologically identical.
I’m currently in Austin, Texas where Valley Fever apparently exists. I wonder if I should go looking for a dust mask to avoid inhaling the spores…. “as if”!