Valley Fever

Fall 2004 CSANews Issue 52  |  Posted date : May 15, 2007.Back to list

One of the unique health risks for travellers to the southwestern United States and to parts of Central and South America is the chance of contracting the disease, "Valley Fever." Southern California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico are the highest risk states. Caused by a fungal infection, it is a disease of the lungs resulting from the release of fungal spores that grow in soils in areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures and moderate winter temperatures.

Valley Fever is spread through the air. If soil containing the fungus is disturbed by construction, natural disasters, or wind (especially dust storms), the fungus spores can get into the air and be inhaled by humans. The disease is not spread from person to person.

Most persons infected have no symptoms and cure is spontaneous. About 40% develop flu-like symptoms, which can last for a month, with tiredness sometimes lasting even longer. In rare cases and without proper treatment, spread of the disease can affect the skin, brain or bone and even lead to death.

Diagnosis is made with a blood test or culture, but as many Canadian physicians are unfamiliar with the disease, travellers returning from out-of-country locations must always alert their physicians to such facts. Treatment is successful with anti-fungal medications.

Although those most susceptible are construction workers, farmers and military personnel, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are also vulnerable.

Prevention is the best remedy. Avoid windy, dusty environments while travelling in the southwest or use a mask. If you develop flu-like symptoms after you've been to the southwest, see a physician immediately and describe any dusty exposure you may have experienced.