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Valley fever results when people are infected with fungi called coccidioides, which is soil dwelling and present in arid areas, like parts of Texas, Arizona, and Nevada or in parts of Mexico and South America. Valley fever symptoms have up to three distinct stages, depending on the individual’s vulnerability to the disease. These are broken up into acute, chronic and disseminated stages, which could also be described as initial infection, continued infection, and infection spread beyond the lungs. Many people only experience the acute stage and then make a full recovery, but some patients, particularly those of non-Caucasian background, elders, and the immunocompromised may progress onto the more difficult stages of the illness.
In the acute stage of a coccidioides infection, valley fever symptoms may be severe or barely noticeable. The different types of valley fever symptoms include fever, tiredness, headache, chills, and aching joints. Since the fungi establishes itself in the lungs it can cause shortness of breath, pain in the chest, which can be either mild or extreme, and cough. Some individuals develop an uncomfortable red rash, especially on the legs, which may gradually darken in color until it is a deep brown. People who are significantly symptomatic with more severe symptom expression may find that the illness continues for half a year to a year, but a number of individuals have very mild symptoms and may have infection without realizing it.
Chronic valley fever symptoms can occur if the acute stage is lengthy and the patient never has complete cessation of symptoms. In the chronic stage, patients develop a pneumonia that may improve or worsen with each day. The common chronic valley fever symptoms are cough, chest pain and pressure, growths in the lungs, blood in coughed up mucus, low fever, and clinically significant weight loss in those who are not attempting to lose weight.
If chronic valley fever symptoms aren’t recognized and addressed with antifungal medications, the illness may progress to a disseminated state. This means that the fungus can move out of the lungs and damage other areas of the body like the major organs, bones, and skin. Some potential disseminated valley fever symptoms are development of meningitis, heart damage, severe rash, and extreme aching in the joints. These symptoms tend to be highly individualized because the fungus can affect so many body systems and structures.
Given the potential severity of valley fever symptoms at all stages, patients who fall into high-risk groups should note any development of flu symptoms after possible exposure. Exposure can occur any time a person is outside in an area where the fungus is known to be present. In the acute stage, treatment isn’t always indicated, since many people recover without it, but if people are at high risk, doctors may choose to treat if they diagnose valley fever, to prevent patients from progressing to the chronic or disseminated state. Lengthy acute stage and development of chronic or disseminated stage valley fever are almost always indications to treat.