This past year the Central Valley, including Children’s Hospital, has seen a significant increase in the number and severity of coccidioidomycosis (valley fever) patients, particularly from the South Valley. The especially dry season of late summer through fall is a peak period when people may become infected with the flu-like and potentially deadly illness caused by inhaling airborne spores of a soil-dwelling fungus.
While most of those infected have a good prognosis, early detection and treatment can be critical. Infection should be considered when children present with a fever of more than one week. Early, there are often no obvious signs of infection and a high index of suspicion is needed to make the diagnosis. Blood tests can test for the disease. Following diagnosis, treatment for the non-contagious disease should be done in consultation with an infectious disease specialist.
About 60 percent of infected people have no symptoms and never seek care; about 30 percent experience fever, cough, chills or malaise that resolve over two to six weeks. Erythema nodosum, a painful red raised rash over the shins, may also develop. When children present with significant pneumonia on chest X-ray or show signs of a bone infection or meningitis, they should be transferred immediately to Children’s as they may require admission and IV antifungal medication.
Diagnosing valley fever in children can be tricky but knowing when to suspect, test for and treat the disease can greatly affect the outcome.