It happened while I carried an ax.
MY PAIN – YOUR LESSON
I’ll explain the ax thing in a minute, but first, let me admit that retelling this story isn’t fun. Typing the truth of Valley Fever (VF) causes my brain to relive the discomfort it would rather forget.
But the good news is this. If my words give you a taste of this little-known disease – I know you’ll spit out “awareness” wherever Nomadic Adventures take you.
One morning while walking Penny and logging my usual 10,000 steps on Fitbit I was having trouble catching my breath. Weird…why was I experiencing this sudden change in my endurance?
Had I not slept well? Was our weekend getaway to Santa Fe too taxing? Could I be turning into a wimpy senior citizen?
By mid-afternoon, my muscles ached as if I had just completed a century bike ride. I crawled into bed determined a nap would roadblock the yuckiness racing to each of my cells.
But my personal collision with Valley Fever had begun.
What began with shortness of breath quickly escalated into paroxysmal coughing, night sweats and fever, a weird blistery rash on my back and both legs, achy joints, weight loss, severe lassitude, and pain in my lungs.
By the fifth day of feeling crappy, I plunged into Google researching what the heck was going on. I typed my symptoms and up popped the words “Valley Fever” aka Coccidioidomycosis. https://www.healthline.com/health/coccidioidomycosis
I headed to the doctor who ordered blood tests and a chest x-ray. It turned out that I was one of the sixty percent of people who have all the symptoms of VF but never test positive for the disease.
For the next ten weeks, my body fought this fierce invasion. I wondered if it would ever end.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
This dirty pathogen isn’t a virus or a bacterium but rather a fungus. Its favorite hiding place is in the soils throughout the southwest where it releases nastiness when broken up by construction, weather, or my trail ax.
John and I had joined the Arizona Trail Association Volunteers. It was a blast to wear a hard hat and help maintain the trails we loved to hike. I cannot know for sure but believe that my exposure to VF occurred while I swung my ax week after week.
AM I AT RISK OF GETTING VALLEY FEVER?
I am not writing this post to frighten the bejesus out of you. Really, I’m not. My goal is to share information in case you or someone you know develops the symptoms that I described.
- Chances are strong that if you have traveled in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central or South America you have been exposed to Valley Fever.
- The good news is that the majority of people exposed to VF never exhibit symptoms or get sick.
- In 2017 there were 14,364 cases of VF reported to the CDC (Center for Disease Control).
- VF is not a flu bug; it is a fungus.
- Severe cases of VF develop pneumonia-causing nodules in the lungs. These nodules can abscess and be misdiagnosed as lung cancer.
- Snowbirds and RV’ers who frequent the Southwest are at a higher risk of exposure to VF.
- Physicians outside of the Southwest are unfamiliar with the symptoms of VF.
- Approximately 200 Coccidioidomycosis-associated death occur each year.
- Anti-fungal medications can decrease symptoms but do not cure VF.
- Antibiotics do nothing for the primary symptoms of VF.
- VF is not contagious.
- There is no vaccine for VF.
- In rare cases, the fungus spreads to other parts of the body becoming a chronic serious illness.
WHO SHOULD BE WORRIED?
All the usual suspects.
By that I mean those individuals whose immune systems place them at higher risk. Elderly (yup, that’s 62-year-old me!), newborns, pregnant women, and those on immunosuppressants.
PETS CAN GET VALLEY FEVER
Animals, particularly dogs, can get Valley Fever but it is not contagious between animals and humans. Most dogs exposed to the Coccidioides never get sick, but those that do exhibit similar symptoms as people. Coughing, lack of energy, weight loss. If you are concerned about your pet risk or think your pet has VF, contact your Veterinarian.
HOW TO PREVENT VALLEY FEVER?
The best prevention for Valley Fever incorporates common sense methods to protect yourself.
- If you’re in the Southwest and exposed to areas of new construction or dirt is being dug up – wear a face mask.
- Run an air purifier in your RV or home.
- Stay inside during dust storms and keep your windows closed.
- Avoid activities that involve digging dirt, like gardening and yard work (or volunteering on trail maintenance teams)!
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO HAVE VALLEY FEVER?
The internet has dozens of articles and information on VF. Click here to gain further information.
There is a Facebook support group called “Survivors of Valley Fever” which I have found extremely helpful as a social support network.
Talk with individuals who have been ill with VF. Having a person you can turn to with your questions will become quite valuable.
The Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona has a dedicated team of researchers and clinicians who treat persons with VF.
I want you to know that I am back to my normal activities without limitations. It’s been several months, and my cough is gone (finally!) and my stamina has returned. In other words, my body has dealt with the nastiness and hopefully, that’s the last I’ll see of VF.
Yes, the fungus will be inside my body forever, but my very smart immune system has set up antibodies to protect me from future flare-ups. It’s kind of like the chickenpox. Hopefully, you get it once and that’s the end of it. However, just as a person with Chicken Pox may develop Shingles later in life – a person with the VF fungus may have a recurrence later on.
As RVer’s we chase good weather.
It’s a no-brainer for us to navigate past East coast hurricanes, Midwest flooding, and West coast fires and earthquakes.
But how do we avoid the invisible culprits like VF that threaten the quality of our lifestyle?
We talk about it and…
We clasp our ax and chop the fear that threatens to hold us.
We educate ourselves and the physicians we come in contact with. And then we continue on with our lifestyle of Adventure!
- The next time you visit your physician “up north” take a moment to inform them about VF.
- Know someone who just can’t “get over” the flu or has developed pneumonia after traveling in the Southwest? Educate them about VF.
- Impress your friends and family by memorizing how to pronounce “Coccidioidomycosis”!
Have you been diagnosed with Valley Fever? Do you know someone who exhibits the symptoms I listed? Leave me a comment and tell me your story.
Wishing you Healthy trails and Happy Adventures!
P.S. Let me repeat what I stated above. The good news is that the majority of people exposed to VF never exhibit symptoms or get sick.