|National Park Service
US Department of the Interior
|Office of Public Health||1201 Eye Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
|Office of Public Health - Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)|
|Archeologists are at risk for contracting Valley fever (also known as coccidioidomycosis), a fungal infection caused by inhaling Coccidioides spores. The disease is common in certain areas of the Southwest and Western United States (see map). About 30% to 60% of people who live in these areas are exposed to the fungus at some point in their life. Most of the time, the disease is mild and resolves on its own. Serious complications occur in about 5% of infected people.
Coccidioides spores travel through the air when soil is disturbed, such as by screening dirt or shoveling. Wind and dust storms can also carry the spores. People breathe the spores into their lungs, where the spores can undergo changes and cause illness. Valley fever cannot be transmitted from person to person, from animal to animal, or between animals and people.
60% of people exposed to Coccidioides spores do not develop symptoms. Those who become ill usually get flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. A rash on the chest, back, arms, or legs can also occur. More serious forms of the disease include pneumonia and complications where the fungus spreads to the brain, joints, bone, or other organs. Symptoms usually develop one to three weeks after exposure and can last longer than six months.
Risk for Complications
Anyone with Valley fever can develop complications, but pregnant women in their third trimester, people with weakened immune systems (e.g. diabetes or HIV), and people receiving steroids or chemotherapy are at greatest risk. People of African-American and Filipino descent may also be at risk for complications.
Testing and Treatment
If you think you might have Valley fever, see a healthcare provider for evaluation. Symptomatic individuals can be tested (blood antibody test) to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment is usually not necessary for mild infections, which often resolve on their own. For individuals with moderate to severe symptoms or people who are at risk for complications, anti-fungal medications are recommended and may be effective.
Safety precautions are recommended for archeologists and other high-risk occupations. These precautions are based on common sense and have not been scientifically studied. No vaccine is currently available. Commonly recommended prevention measures include:
Tri-fold color brochure available.
If you have any questions, please contact your nearest Regional Point of Contact, park sanitarian or call WASO Public Health for more information.
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