Q&A Valley Fever

Valley Fever is a disease largely unique to Arizona and the Desert Southwest. Sixty-five percent of all Valley Fever cases occur in Arizona, and 95% of those cases occur in our region!

Can I prevent Valley Fever?

The only prevention available is never visiting or stopping or breathing the air of Southern Arizona. If you live, visit or breathe in Southern Arizona, you have most likely been exposed to Valley Fever! There is no vaccine and no way to prevent your pet from getting Valley Fever.

Learn more here: Valley Fever Center For Excellence

Valley Fever is a fungus that lives in our soil and gets picked up by the wind (or construction) and is disseminated like pollen. Due to this there is simply no way of escaping the spore. Work on a vaccine has been going on for some time; but, due to the limited pool of pets and people exposed to Valley Fever and the prohibitive costs of vaccine production, it is unlikely that we will see one anytime soon.

Is Valley Fever contagious?

Valley Fever is NOT contagious! It is spread through the air to enter our bodies, but once we have it we cannot pass it on in any way.

Can my pet be treated for Valley Fever?

Valley Fever can be treated, and in most cases treatment is effective. Treatment can be prolonged due to the fact that Valley Fever is a fungal disease which is harder to beat than bacterial diseases. The treatment of choice is an antifungal drug named Fluconazole. Other treatments exist that cost less, however there is a great deal of debate regarding the risks of using these drugs due to toxic side efffects.

We have found that compunding pharmacies are the best bet for affordable Fluconazole. In addition to Fluconazole, we will often provide supplements that support liver function.

How dangerous is Valley Fever to my pet?

Valley Fever can be fatal if left untreated; however, once we diagnose the disease most pets will recover in time. Usually symptoms subside fairly rapidly once we initiate treatment. Treating this disease takes a minimum of six months of consistant treatment, and some pets may never be fully rid of it requiring ongoing treatment to keep fungal levels low.

In rare cases the fungus will enter areas of the body (near the heart or in the brain) that complicate treatment. Some of these pets may have a long road to recovery, and while rare, sometimes we cannot stop the progress of the disease.

What if I just visit Arizona and don’t really live there?

Obviously the more time you spend in Arizona, the higher the risk. The disease is not cumulative, you do not need to breathe in a certain amount of the spores to get ill. Even a short visit can result in Valley Fever; however, and this cannot be overstated- doctors and veterinarians in your home state may have NEVER heard of Valley Fever!

Valley Fever mimics other diseases, and if medical professionals do not intentfully look for it, they may miss it. In cats it can look like injury or asthma; in humans it can look like lung cancer or pnuemonia; in dogs it may look like disseminated cancer of the lungs, pnuemonia, and bone cancer. There is a real risk of misdiagnosis when medical professionals don’t know about exposure to Valley Fever.

What are symptoms of Valley Fever?

The most commonly seen symptoms in dogs are coughing, limping, or general malaise. In cats we see coughing, asthma-like symptoms, and non-healing sores. Other signs of Valley Fever include neurological symptoms, seizures, extreme lethargy, fever, painful eyes and swollen joints or limbs.

Sixty-five percent of all Valley Fever infections will have no symptoms whatsoever; these are called asymptomatic cases. These pets have breathed in the fungal spore creating an exposure to the disease, but their immune system was healthy enough that it destroyed the fungus before it was able to reproduce and spread.

In other cases where there are symptoms, the majority of those symptoms are flu-like (coughing, lethargy, fever). These symptoms are caused by the immune system’s response to the invaders. These symptoms can persist for several weeks, with weakness possible persisting for several months.

Where can I learn more about Valley Fever?

We are fortunate to have The University of Arizona’s Valley Fever Center for Excellence available for the latest in Valley Fever research. Click here to check out their very informative website.