Coccidioides Fungal Infections Becoming Much More Common

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Coccidioides is a soil fungi (mold) found in many dry areas including southwestern parts of the United States and parts of Mexico and South America. This mold commonly infects humans in living in dry areas.

About two-thirds of infected patients will have a mild and temporary infection and about one-third will get a flu-like illness also known as “Valley Fever”. About 1% of infected patients will develop a very serious lung infection which can spread to the brain and other organs and can be life-threatening if antibiotic therapy is not given promptly. 

Coccidioides infections are increasing rapidly in the USA, with an estimated 4-fold increase from 1996 to 2007. About 150,000 cases of Coccidioides infections were reported in the US in 2007. The number of Coccidioides infections may continue to increase as more people move to dry regions of the southwest USA. In some parts of the southwestern USA, Coccidioides causes 17 to 29% of all pneumonia infections. While Coccidioides infections are found primarily in dry regions like the Southwestern USA, Coccidioides infections have occasionally been reported in wet areas such as eastern USA or Europe.

Increased risk of Coccidioides infections has been linked to many factors including smoking, diabetes, old age, poverty, immunocompromised patients (such as those with HIV, organ/bone marrow transplants or some forms of cancer) and working in agricultural or other dusty occupations. Other studies have noted that Coccidioimycosis infections have been associated with dust storms, dry weather conditions and archeological work. It is recommended that dust masks be worn during dust storms, mining, archeological excavation or agricultural operations with generate lots of dust. Work has been undergoing for the past 10 years to develop a vaccine for Coccidioides. Any person who develops symptoms of pneumonia (such as fever or trouble breathing) should consult a physician for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

George Thompson. Pulmonary Coccidiodomycosis. Seminars in Respiratory Care Medicine 2011;32:754-63. AND

Rebecca Sunenshine et al. Public health surveillance for Coccidiodomycosis in Arizona. Annals NY Academy Science 2007;1111:96-102. AND

Nancy Rosenstein et al. Risk factors for severe pulmonary and disseminated coccidioidomycosis: Kern County, California, 1995-6. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2011;32:708-15.

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