Valley Fever is a common name for coccidioidomycosis infection. The coccidioides immitis organism is a fungus that lives in the soil in the southwestern United States. The fungal spores can be inhaled into the respiratory system or through a disrupted mucous membrane. Once in the body, the organism can cause problems locally or travel through the body. Common places to see this infection manifested are the respiratory system (coughing, gagging, wheezing), the bones (limping, pain), or the neurological system (staggering, seizures); but the disease can also manifest just about anywhere else in the body.
This disease is generally not contagious from one mammal to another but more than one animal can contract it from the same place. For example, if two dogs are digging in the same hole in the desert and the hole has the fungi, they both may inhale the spores and result in disease. Not every exposure to this fungus results in disease. In most instances, the animal has to have a depleted immune system or be exposed to high numbers of the organism. In our companion animals, dogs contract the disease more frequently than cats but cats can have the disease as well. Rarely, open draining tract wounds can result from this disease. These wounds ARE contagious; if this is suspected in your animal, wear gloves and a mask when handling and contact your veterinarian right away.
Once suspected in your pet, your veterinarian will request a blood titer test; this will determine if the animal is positive for the organism and “how” positive. It is likely other tests will be run as well to determine the over-all health of your pet. Chest or bone x-rays may also be recommended. Occasionally an MRI and CSF tap are required for diagnosis. If positive for valley fever, your veterinarian will recommend a systemic anti-fungal medication and an immune-boosting supplement. The anti-fungal medication will stop the organism from reproducing then it is up to the animals’ immune system to kill the organism. It will be important to monitor your pets’ clinical signs, to perform a repeat valley fever titer, and check liver function every 3-6 months.
Remember: The goal of treating valley fever is an ultimate regression of clinical signs, re-supplying your pet’s immune system, and a discontinuation of medication. Questions? Call 480-807-5524