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Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever)

Are You at Risk?

Severe forms of Valley Fever are rare, but require treatment and can be very serious. These include severe or chronic pneumonia and disseminated disease. While anyone can develop severe Valley Fever, there are differences in the risk of developing severe or chronic pneumonia and disseminated disease among people.

Disseminated Disease

Disseminated disease is when the fungal infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body. The most common areas of dissemination in Valley Fever are skin, bones, joints and brain meninges (the tissue layers around the brain). Infection of the lining of the brain can be deadly. Symptoms can last for years and may require lifelong treatment with antifungal medication. Symptoms of disseminated Valley Fever can vary a lot, but some common ones include:

  • Unexplained fevers
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Painful and swollen joint
  • Bone pain
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Bumps or sores on the skin

Severe Pneumonia

Patients with severe or chronic pneumonia due to Valley Fever can have long lasting symptoms such as low grade fever, weight loss, cough, chest pain and coughing up blood and may need treatment.

Groups at Risk

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Everyone who lives in or travels to an endemic area with Valley Fever is at risk for getting the disease. However, being part of one or more of the following may increase your risk of developing severe disease. Click on the links below to learn more.

People with Weakened Immune Systems

The immune system is the body’s defense against disease. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of severe pneumonia and disseminated disease because their bodies cannot fight Valley Fever as well as others. This includes organ transplant patients, Hodgkin’s disease patients, people taking corticosteroids (prednisone, dexamethasone, etc.), certain types of drugs for autoimmune diseases, or chemotherapy, and HIV/AIDS patients. If you have any of these health conditions or are taking these medications, talk to your doctor about Valley Fever and ask to be tested if you think you have it. If you have Valley Fever, go to your doctor if your symptoms get worse or if you develop new symptoms.

African Americans and Filipinos

African Americans and Filipinos are not more likely to get Valley Fever. However, if they do become infected they have a higher risk of developing disseminated disease. They are also more like to be hospitalized with or die from Valley Fever than Whites. Experts are unsure of why this happens, but it may due to genetic differences. Talk to your doctor about Valley Fever and ask to be tested if you think you have it. If you have Valley Fever, go to your doctor if your symptoms get worse or if you develop new symptoms.

People with Diabetes

People with diabetes are not more likely to get Valley Fever. However, they may be more likely to develop severe or chronic pneumonia. It is not clear why this happens, but diabetes can weaken the immune system. Diabetics with better controlled sugar levels may have less severe disease. Talk to your doctor about Valley Fever and ask to be tested if you think you have it. If you have Valley Fever, go to your doctor if your symptoms get worse or if you develop new symptoms.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are not more likely to get Valley Fever. However, they are at a greater risk of getting chronic or disseminated Valley Fever, especially during the third trimester and immediately after giving birth. They are also more likely to be hospitalized due to Valley Fever. We do not know exactly why this is, but pregnancy affects the immune system. Being pregnant and part of one or more of the other groups listed on this page may further increase your risk of developing severe disease.

While Valley Fever cannot be passed from a mother to her child, some of the drugs used to treat it can be harmful to a developing baby and should not be taken during pregnancy. If you have Valley Fever or are on medication for Valley Fever and you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you should be closely followed by a doctor. Talk to your doctor about your options. If you have Valley Fever, go to your doctor if your symptoms get worse or if you develop new symptoms. See also our Valley Fever and Pregnancy Brochure below.

Additional Resources