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Coccidioidomycosis is an infection caused by inhaling the microscopic spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis. Spores are the tiny, thick-walled structures that fungi use to reproduce. Coccidioidomycosis exists in three forms. The acute form produces flu-like symptoms. The chronic form can develop as many as 20 years after initial infection and, in the lungs, can produce inflamed, injured areas that can fill with pus (abscesses). Disseminated coccidioidomycosis describes the type of coccidioidomycosis that spreads throughout the body affecting many organ systems and is often fatal.
Coccidioidomycosis is an airborne infection. The fungus that causes the disease is found in the dry desert soil of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. Coccidioidomycosis is sometimes called San Joaquin fever, valley fever, or desert fever because of its prevalence in the farming valleys of California. Although commonly acquired, overt coccidioidomycosis is a rare disease. Chronic infections occur in only one out of every 100,000 people.
Although anyone can get coccidioidomycosis, farm laborers, construction workers, and archaeologists who work where it is dusty are at greater risk to become infected. People of any age can get coccidioidomycosis, but the disease most commonly occurs in the 25–55 age group. In its acute form, coccidioidomycosis infects men and women equally.
Chronic and disseminated forms of coccidioidomycosis occur more frequently in men and pregnant women. Although it is not clear why, people of color are 10-20 times more likely to develop the disseminated form of the disease than caucasians. People who have a weakened immune system (immunocompromised), either from diseases such as AIDS or leukemia, or as the result of medications that suppressed the immune system (corticosteroids, chemotherapy), are more likely to develop disseminated coccidioidomycosis.
When the spores of C. immitis are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs, divide, and cause localized inflammation. This is known as acute or primary coccidioidomycosis. The disease is not spread from one person to another. Approximately 60% of people who are infected exhibit no symptoms (asymptomatic). In the other 40%, symptoms appear 10–30 days after exposure. These symptoms include a fever which can reach 104°F (39.5°C), dry cough, chest pains, joint and muscle aches, headache, and weight loss. About two weeks after the start of the fever, some people develop a painful red rash or lumps on the lower legs. Symptoms usually disappear without treatment in about one month. People who have been infected gain partial immunity to reinfection.
The chronic form of coccidioidomycosis normally occurs after a long latent period of 20 or more years during which the patient experiences no symptoms of the disease. In the chronic phase, coccidioidomycosis causes
In its disseminated form, coccidioidomycosis spreads to other parts of the body including the liver, bones, skin, brain, heart, and lining around the heart (pericardium). Symptoms include fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, night sweats, skin lesions, and difficulty breathing. Also, in 30–50% of patients with disseminated coccidioidomycosis, the tissue coverings of the brain and spinal cord become inflamed (meningitis).
Author Info: Tish Davidson, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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