We travel a lot. A LOT. I can’t imagine the miles we logged as we traveled through the country (and this year, Europe!) speaking to the preparedness community about medical issues. Well, recently, we returned from Arizona with a peculiar cough and mildly elevated temperatures.
Nurse Amy was worse than I was, as I am a tough old goat, but we both were clearly under the weather. Standard medications didn’t seem to help, so I did a little research and found an infection that seems to be a hidden epidemic in the areas we visited: Valley Fever.
Valley Fever is known as coccidioidmycosis (now THAT’s a mouthful of medical-ese) and causes an infection of the lungs that can produce a pneumonia-like picture. Cough, fever, headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath are not uncommon. This disease likes dry weather and is seen mostly in Arizona, Utah, Southern California, and New Mexico.
The number of cases of Valley Fever have been climbing steadily: 22,500 cases in 2011 vs. only 2,265 in 1998. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention thinks the illness is under-reported and that 150,000 people may be affected annually.
The interesting thing about Valley Fever is that it’s not caused by a bacteria or a virus. It’s caused by a fungus and is not effectively treated with either antbacterial or antiviral drugs. The fungus in question starts life as a tiny spore which, when inhaled, can go deep into the lungs. It’s thought that more than half of those infected have little or no symptoms. In several hundred cases a year, however, the spores spread beyond the respiratory system and invade bones, liver, nerves, and other organs. This spread results in about 160 deaths a year, according to the University of Arizona in Tucson.
As few people will report minimal symptoms to their doctor, the illness often goes untreated. Some symptoms, however, may be suspicious for Valley Fever and should be reported (in normal times) to qualified professionals. Cold symptoms accompanied by:
- Continuous fever for longer than 1 month
- Body-weight loss of more than 10%
- Intense night sweats that persist for more than 3 weeks
- Abnormal breathing
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Symptoms that persist for more than 2 months
Although the standard tests (cultures, blood, etc.) won’t be available in an austere environment, a high index of suspicion in the areas when the fungus resides will be helpful for diagnosis.
The treatment for Valley Fever most often used is the oral antifungal agent Fluconazole 400mg-800mg/day. This is a much higher dose than commonly used for, say, a vaginal yeast infection and requires a prescription. Other drugs used are Ketoconazole, Itraconozole, and Amphotericin B. To say the least, accumulation of these medications for survival storage is going to be difficult.
The natural treatment for fungal issues concentrates on yeast in the intestines, hoping to create an environment hostile to the organism. A diet low in sugar, dairy products, and yeast-containing foods hope to accomplish this goal. Lactobacillus acidophilus is often used to re-establish normal bacteria in the intestines. Vitamin supplements high in A, C, E, and B complex may be helpful. Antifungal herbs, like Tea Tree, Myrrh, and Garlic can be used in order to increase the effectiveness of conventional or alternative remedies.
The problem is that most natural anti-fungal remedies are meant to deal with intestinal or skin issues. Valley Fever’s spores are deposited directly into the lungs, so there is little hard data that predicts the effectiveness of treatment.
Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones