November 7 through 15 is Valley Fever Awareness Week in Arizona as declared by state Governor Douglas Ducey and health officials in Arizona are stepping up investigations into a increase in Valley fever cases in recent months.
Director for the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), Cara M. Christ, M.D. said in her blog today:
Although the upcoming 2014 Annual Valley Fever Report shows a decrease in reported cases in Arizona over the past few years, reports of Valley Fever have been increasing in the last few months.
Epidemiologists, our disease detectives, at the Arizona Department of Health Services are looking into why we’re seeing this increase and are continuing to work with county health departments and the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona to monitor the disease and provide education to healthcare providers and the public.
Coccidioidomycosis, the fungus that causes Valley Fever. It is one of the most commonly reported infectious diseases in Arizona, and accounts for 65 percent of all reported cases in the US.
Since 2009, Arizona has reported more than 10,000 coccidioidomycosis cases each year, with the exception of 2013.
Continued surveillance for valley fever by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has demonstrated that Valley fever is one of the most commonly reported infectious diseases in Arizona and 96% of cases reported in Arizona reside in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties.
People are infected with the fungus Coccidioides immitis by inhaling fungal spores that become airborne after disturbance of contaminated soil by humans or natural disasters like a dust storm.
Approximately 60% of people infected with Coccidioides are asymptomatic and have self-limited respiratory tract infections. If symptoms do appear, they will appear 1-3 weeks after exposure. The symptoms, if present are usually non-specific, flu-like symptoms: fever, cough, headache, rash and muscle aches. Most make a full recovery within a month more or less.
However, in a small number of people (approx. 1%), the fungal infection can cause serious infection disseminating to visceral organs, the central nervous system, bone, skin or lymph nodes.
Disseminated Coccidioides infections occur more frequently in dark-skinned races (persons of African or Filipino descent). In addition, pregnant woman and the immunocompromised are more predisposed to disseminated infections.
According to the CDC, in many cases, treatment for coccidioidomycosis is not necessary, as symptoms can resolve on their own. Many healthcare providers still prefer to prescribe antifungal medications, such as fluconazole, to prevent a more severe infection from developing.
It is especially important for people at risk for severe disease, such as people infected with HIV or those with weakened immune systems, to receive treatment as quickly as possible. It is extremely important for people with severe infections to be treated with antifungal medications because advanced coccidioidomycosis can be fatal if not treated.
There are no over the counter medications to treat coccidioidomycosis.
The CDC says it is very difficult to avoid exposure to Coccidioides, but people who live in endemic regions should try to avoid dusty environments if possible. People who are at risk for severe disease can take the following measures to avoid exposure.
- Wear an N95 mask if you must be in or near a dusty environment, such as a construction zone
- Avoid activities that involve close contact to dust including yard work, gardening, and digging
- Use air quality improvement measures indoors such as HEPA filters
- Take prophylactic anti-fungal medication if deemed necessary by your healthcare provider
- Clean skin injuries well with soap and water, especially if they have been exposed to soil or dust