Valley Fever often misdiagnosed

Feb 28, 2011 By Robert Rappaport

While common in Arizona, Valley Fever often is misdiagnosed in patients, leading to a litany of problems. The infection is caused by inhaling a fungus that lives in the soil and becomes airborne by wind, dust storms, digging and other activities.

Valley Fever causes symptoms such as coughing, , fever, weight loss and night sweats--symptoms caused by many different kinds of .

“In the office, a doctor isn’t able to tell what kind of pneumonia you have--whether it’s , or a bacterial pneumonia or a viral pneumonia--unless specific tests are done,” says Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona.

“Unless a doctor decides to do those tests, they may just assume it’s a bacterial infection (and) treat for that. As it turns out, in our part of the country, a third of those people actually have a fungal infection, not a bacterial infection ... so, the treatments really don’t help, because they aren’t therapeutic for a fungal infection.”

A simple blood test can help diagnose Valley Fever, Galgiani says, but up to 90 percent of doctors don’t order the tests.

Aside from the high rate of misdiagnosis, the fungal infection usually isn’t bad enough to require medicine. Two out of three cases aren’t severe enough to require medical attention and many people may never even know they’ve been infected, says Galgiani.

There is a one in 30 chance of contracting Valley Fever for each person in our community who has not yet had it, he says.

In rare cases, however, Valley Fever can cause serious illness and even be fatal. Tucker Peck knows firsthand what it’s like to have Valley Fever and be treated for something else.

The 28-year-old graduate student in the University of Arizona’s Clinical Psychology Program moved to Tucson 2 ½ years ago and that’s when his troubles began. After a series of both positive and negative tests for Valley Fever, his condition began to deteriorate after being prescribed the incorrect course of drug treatment.

“Over the summer, starting in June, I started getting pneumonia like twice a month,” says Peck, who was living in Seattle over that summer. He was forced to quit his job and doctors then prescribed steroids for asthma, which turned out not to be the problem.

“For asthma, you want to turn the immune system down, but with Valley Fever you want to turn it up," he says. "I’ve heard that’s pretty common for people to get misdiagnosed and get wrong medicines that make it worse.”

Peck says being treated for the wrong illness has given him health problems he’ll face for the rest of his life. After being treated with the incorrect medicine, Peck developed a grapefruit-sized abscess on his right lung.

“On September 10th, the abscess exploded. It’s a grapefruit’s worth of Valley Fever shot all throughout my lungs, my chest, my airways,” says Peck. He was hospitalized for 18 days and had to have a piece of his lung removed and the rest of the organ cleaned.

Peck says he feels fine now, but worries the Valley Fever can come back at any moment, much like a person who has cancer in remission.

Explore further: Drones help show how environmental changes affect the spread of infectious diseases

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers advance vaccine against Valley fever

Jul 07, 2009

Medical mycologists in The South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) and the Department of Biology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have significantly advanced the fight against San Joaquin ...

Flu season not over yet, doctors say

Feb 24, 2011

To those who track infectious diseases, it doesn’t matter that groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year. Regardless of weather forecasts, doctors say flu season is likely to last another several ...

Virus death toll rises in Kenya

Jan 26, 2007

Officials in Kenya are trying to stop the spread of Rift Valley Fever, which has killed at least 148 people.

When should sinus problems be a concern?

Oct 21, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The majority of sinus infections in adults tend to be viral, not bacterial, and will likely resolve in 10-14 days, says UC Health allergist Andrew Smith, MD.

Modern society made up of all types

Nov 04, 2010

Modern society has an intense interest in classifying people into ‘types’, according to a University of Melbourne Cultural Historian, leading to potentially catastrophic life-changing outcomes for those typed – ...

Recommended for you

Where Ebola battles are won

8 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Four hospitals that are home to advanced biocontainment facilities have become America's ground zero in the treatment of Ebola patients.

Depression tied to worse lumbar spine surgery outcomes

10 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Depressive symptoms are associated with poorer long-term outcome in patients undergoing surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS), according to research published in the Oct. 1 issue of The Sp ...

Ebola death toll edging to 4,900 mark: WHO

11 hours ago

The death toll in the world's worst-ever Ebola outbreak has edged closer to 4,900, while almost 10,000 people have now been infected, new figures from the World Health Organization showed Wednesday.

US to track everyone coming from Ebola nations

11 hours ago

U.S. authorities said Wednesday that everyone traveling into the U.S. from Ebola-stricken nations will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. That includes returning American aid workers, federal health employees ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

geokstr
1 / 5 (7) Feb 28, 2011
This must be what causes Valley Girls to talk like, you know, like they're brain-dead or something, anyways.
FrankHerbert
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 01, 2011
So you're a misogynist too. Cool!
geokstr
1 / 5 (8) Mar 01, 2011
Got nothing better to do than stalk me, eh, Frank?

Sicko.

And, like a typical leftling, no sense of humor whatsoever.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Mar 01, 2011
Valley fever is quite insidious. If you have ever lived in the desert SW, you will probably test positive for the spores.
Everyone with a lung problems should be tested to see if it is the fungus.