What is Valley Fever and where does it come from?

What is Valley Fever

What is Valley Fever? Valley fever has several common names. Known as  “California disease”, “Desert Rheumatism”, or “San Joaquin Valley Fever” – the last title is where the common name comes from. Officially it is called Coccidioidomycosis and caused by the fungus coccidiodes immitis.

Where can Valley Fever be found?

The culprit fungus has developed and loves to live in hot, dry, mostly desert climates. It is most commonly found in parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. If you travel internationally, be aware that this fungus is also found in parts of Central and South America. Generally, climate conditions are important the fungus growth, it is believed that other factors can contribute to overall infection rates from this fungus. Some areas, notably Arizona, believe that this disease is reaching epidemic proportions for both people and animals. Pet owners should be particularly vigilant of Valley Fever symptoms in June-August and October-December. After there has been significant rain, which is when the active spores are created.

How do you contract Valley Fever?

During the rainy season, the fungus grows and generates the infectious spores. The spores can become airborne through many mechanisms such as digging, farming, construction, or dust storms stirring up the dirt. Although not airborne, inhaling from the dirt is enough to cause the transformation in a yeast-type infection in the lungs. This is why Valley Fever is common to people working outside, as well as dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors.

Importantly, please note that Valley Fever is not a contagious disease. The fungus gets in your system by inhaling the active spores. So while it can affect multiple species, if your dog gets affected by it, they will not pass it to other household members. If other members become infected it is likely because of an environmental condition (walking in the same area, breathing the same air, sniffing the same dirt).

What species are affected by Valley Fever?

Pet owners should be very careful regarding this disease. As mentioned earlier, these spores affect humans and most land-borne mammals (dogs, cattle, horses, deer/elk, donkeys/mules, llamas, bears). It can affect marine life too but to a lesser extent.

Out of the species mentioned, it is worth noting that dogs are by far the most susceptible to the spores. This is probably a function of their lifestyle (eating grass, sniffing dirt), not a physiological predisposition. When these animals sniff the ground, they inherently inhale the fungus spore, leading to build-up and potential infection. Dogs, of course, sniff the most and are thus at high risk. Valley Fever is very easily managed after it is diagnosed, treatment is long term. However the dog will have a good quality of life! 

Read more on the symptoms of Valley Fever, along with the diagnosis and treatment. 

Please look at this page for more in depth research on Valley Fever

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