Originally Published: April 26, 2008 7:27 p.m.
If you live in the southwestern U.S. you've probably heard of valley fever - but many people don't really know what it is. Well, valley fever is a disease caused by a fungus that gets into your body through your lungs. It can make you feel like you have a cold or the flu and may cause a rash. Most people get better without treatment.
If your body's immune system is weak, however, valley fever can be deadly. In rare cases it can be deadly even for people with a normal immune system. Valley fever can spread to other parts of your body.
Those at higher risk for severe illness include people with AIDS, pregnant women, people who take medicines that weaken the immune system and people with diabetes. Filipinos, African Americans, Mexican Americans and Native Americans also have a higher risk.
Valley fever occurs in dry desert areas of the southwestern United States, central California and Mexico.
You can get valley fever if you breathe in the fungus that causes the disease. That fungus grows in the soil and it gets into the air when the ground is broken and the dirt and dust spread.
People with jobs that require digging in the soil have the greatest chance of getting valley fever. This includes people who work on farms, in construction, and in archeology or paleontology.
People who ride bikes or drive all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in the desert also have a higher chance of getting it. Dust storms can spread the fungus in the air, so other people can also get valley fever.
You cannot get valley fever from another person or from animals. After getting better, most people will not get valley fever again. But valley fever can come back again in people who have weak immune systems and cannot fight infection.
Most people do not have any symptoms, or they have only very mild symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may feel like you have a cold or the flu. You may have a fever, chills, chest pain, a dry cough and a rash. The time from contact with the fungus until symptoms start is usually one to three weeks.
Most people with valley fever get better without treatment. For severe cases, doctors may prescribe antifungal medicines. There is no medicine to prevent valley fever.