Valley Fever is a fungal infection, contracted by inhaling the spores of the fungus coccidiomycosis. The spores of Coccidiomycosis are found in the arid dirt of the Southwestern US and parts of northern Mexico. Here are some maps of places Valley Fever can be found… primarily, though, Valley Fever is a threat in those areas when there is a lot of dust or new construction. Most people living in cities in the endemic areas have had Valley Fever at one point or another, though they may not know it.
I got Valley Fever by living in Tucson. It’s hard to avoid or prevent, as a person has to breathe. The only way to avoid it is not to go! I didn’t know about Valley Fever prior to moving to the area, although if I knew then what I know now you can bet I would have stayed far away.
For diabetics, Valley Fever poses specific challenges. In a normal person, an infection with Valley Fever would most likely seem like a flu, with symptoms centering on the lungs, and be over in a week or so. In a person with diabetes, there is a chance that you could have a minor case, but there is also an increased chance that you could develop a more chronic and serious form of it. Diabetics have a much increased chance of lung cavities. I got a pretty significant lung cavity from my Valley Fever. It’s a hole in my lung about the size of a silver dollar, and is monitored with antifungal meds and CT scans. Hopefully (though there’s no guarantee), I’ll only need another year or so of treatment, and I won’t need surgery to remove that part of my lung.
In spite of the rather bad time I’ve had with Valley Fever (coughing blood is no one’s idea of fun!), I’m actually quite lucky for someone with the chronic form. Valley Fever can lead to meningitis, death, excruciating joint pain, and can infect basically any organ. As diabetics, PLEASE be aware of this disease if you’re planning on traveling to any of the endemic areas. I’m not saying don’t go, I’m just saying know your enemy and weigh the decision carefully. Like you would if you were traveling somewhere that malaria or dysentery were prevalent.
If you do travel to an area where Valley Fever is, and if you come down with a flu / cold, see a doctor immediately and ask to be tested for coccidiomycosis. Ask for a titered test, to see if you have currently active Valley Fever. If you do, please insist on immediate, aggressive treatment with Diflucan or a similar medication.