Asian American Medical Hazard: Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)

Effects of Valley Fever on a Lung

When I read this article about how California was moving prisoners from Central Valley prisons because of “valley fever” problems, one line in particular got my attention:

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson last week ordered the transfer of most black, Filipino and medically at-risk inmates from Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons because those groups are more vulnerable to the naturally occurring fungal infection that causes valley fever.

Searching for valley fever, I found on its Wikipedia entry the above picture of part of a lung from a valley fever victim.  I also found this line:

In order of decreasing risk, people of Filipino, African, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian descent are more susceptible to the disseminated form of the disease than general population.

African American inmates were dying of valley fever at twice the rate of non-black inmates, but Filipinos are at greater risk.  Other Asians too are at extra risk, although not at the same degree.  All this while the Center for Disease Control (CDC) finds that occurrences of this disease is on the rise.  Just what is valley fever?

Valley Fever, also known as  “San Joaquin Valley Fever, ” “Desert rheumatism,” but scientifically as Coccidioidomycosis, is a sickness caused by an infection from one of the Coccidioides immitis or Coccidioides posadasii funguses.  Victims get it by breathing in spores from soil of desert areas of the American Southwest, the California Central Valley, Northern Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. Cases range from 60% of those infected have no symptoms,30% have mild to moderate flu like symptoms, while 5% to 10% have complications, with less than 1% being fatal.  It is often misdiagnosed and takes specific laboratory tests to identify it.

Of the patients with complications, 1% to 2% will have the disease spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, a process call dissemination, with meningitis being the most serious and lethal result.  The increased risk to African Americans and Filipinos seems to come from having a higher rate of dissemination.  People with weakened immune systems are also at additional risk.

There is no practical ways to prevent valley fever.  Avoiding airborne dust and dirt from at risk areas is recommended but not 100% effective.  Some sources recommending using recirculating air conditioning when traveling through these risk areas.  Most patients recover with no treatment, but with dissemination, antifungal drugs are used.  Sometimes surgery is needed to remove lung cavities.

Some Valley Fever resources:


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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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