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Coccidioidomycosis is an infection caused by inhaling the microscopic spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis. Spores are the tiny, thick-walled structures that fungi use to reproduce. Coccidioidomycosis exists in three forms. The acute form produces flu-like symptoms. The chronic form can develop as many as 20 years after initial infection and, in the lungs, can produce inflamed, injured areas that can fill with pus (abscesses). Disseminated coccidioidomycosis describes the type of coccidioidomycosis that spreads throughout the body affecting many organ systems and is often fatal.


Coccidioidomycosis is an airborne infection. The fungus that causes the disease is found in the dry desert soil of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. Coccidioidomycosis is sometimes called San Joaquin fever, valley fever, or desert fever because of its prevalence in the farming valleys of California. Although commonly acquired, overt coccidioidomycosis is a rare disease. Chronic infections occur in only one out of every 100,000 people.
Although anyone can get coccidioidomycosis, farm laborers, construction workers, and archaeologists who work where it is dusty are at greater risk to become infected. People of any age can get coccidioidomycosis, but the disease most commonly occurs in the 25-55 age group. In its acute form, coccidioidomycosis infects men and women equally.
Chronic and disseminated forms of coccidioidomycosis occur more frequently in men and pregnant women. Although it is not clear why, people of color are 10-20 times more likely to develop the disseminated form of the disease than caucasians. People who have a weakened immune system (immunocompromised), either from diseases such as AIDS or leukemia, or as the result of medications that suppressed the immune system (corticosteroids, chemotherapy), are more likely to develop disseminated coccidioidomycosis.

Causes and symptoms

When the spores of C. immitis are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs, divide, and cause localized inflammation. This is known as acute or primary coccidioidomycosis. The disease is not spread from one person to another. Approximately 60% of people who are infected exhibit no symptoms (asymptomatic). In the other 40%, symptoms appear 10-30 days after exposure. These symptoms include a fever which can reach 104°F (39.5°C), dry cough, chest pains, joint and muscle aches, headache, and weight loss. About two weeks after the start of the fever, some people develop a painful red rash or lumps on the lower legs. Symptoms usually disappear without treatment in about one month. People who have been infected gain partial immunity to reinfection.
The chronic form of coccidioidomycosis normally occurs after a long latent period of 20 or more years during which the patient experiences no symptoms of the disease. In the chronic phase, coccidioidomycosis causes lung abscesses that rupture, spilling pus and fluid into the lungs, and causing serious damage to the lungs. The patient experiences difficulty breathing and has a fever, chest pain, and other signs of pneumonia. Medical treatment is essential for recovery.
In its disseminated form, coccidioidomycosis spreads to other parts of the body including the liver, bones, skin, brain, heart, and lining around the heart (pericardium). Symptoms include fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, night sweats, skin lesions, and difficulty breathing. Also, in 30-50% of patients with disseminated coccidioidomycosis, the tissue coverings of the brain and spinal cord become inflamed (meningitis).


Many cases of coccidioidomycosis go undiagnosed because the symptoms resemble those of common viral diseases. However, a skin test similar to that for tuberculosis will determine whether a person has been infected. The test is simple and accurate, but it does not indicate whether the disease was limited to its acute form or if it has progressed to its chronic form.
Diagnosis of chronic or disseminated coccidioidomycosis is made by culturing a sample of sputum or other body fluids in the laboratory to isolate the fungus. A blood serum test is used to detect the presence of an antibody produced in response to C. immitis infection. Chest x rays are often used to assess lung damage, but alone cannot lead to a definitive diagnosis of coccidioidomycosis because other diseases can produce similar results on the x ray.


In most cases of acute coccidioidomycosis, the body's own immune system is adequate to bring about recovery without medical intervention. Fever and pain can be treated with non-prescription drugs.
Chronic and disseminated coccidioidomycosis, however, are serious diseases that require treatment with prescription drugs. Patients with intact immune systems who develop chronic coccidiodomycosis are treated with the drug ketoconazole (Nizoral) or amphotericin B (Fungizone). Patients with suppressed immune systems are treated with amphotericin B (Fungizone). Amphotericin B is a powerful fungistatic drug with potentially toxic side effects. As a result, hospitalization is required in order to monitor patients. The patient may also receive other drugs to minimize the side effects of the amphotericin B.
Patients with AIDS must continue to take itraconazole (Sporonox) or fluconazole (Diflucan) orally or receive weekly intravenous doses of amphotericin B for the rest of their lives in order to prevent a relapse. Because of the high cost of fluconazole, Pfizer, the manufacturer of the drug, has established a financial assistance plan to make the drug available at lower cost to those who meet certain criteria. Patients needing this drug should ask their doctors about this program.

Alternative treatment

Alternative treatment for fungal infections focuses on creating an internal environment where the fungus cannot survive. This is accomplished by eating a diet low in dairy products, sugars, including honey and fruit juice, and foods like beer that contain yeast. This is complemented by a diet consisting, in large part, of uncooked and unprocessed foods. Supplements of vitamins C, E, A-plus, and B complex may also be useful. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium will replenish the good bacteria in the intestines. Antifungal herbs, like garlic (Allium sativum), can be consumed in relatively large does and for an extended period of time in order to increase effectiveness.

Key terms

Abscess — An area of inflamed and injured body tissue that fills with pus.
Acidophilus — The bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus that usually found in yogurt.
Antibody — A specific protein produced by the immune system in response to a specific foreign protein or particle called an antigen.
Antigen — A foreign protein to which the body reacts by making antibodies.
Asymptomatic — Persons who carry a disease but who do not exhibit symptoms of the disease are said to be asymptomatic.
Bifidobacteria — A group of bacteria normally present in the intestine. Commercial supplements containing these bacteria are available.
Corticosteroids — A group of hormones produced naturally by the adrenal gland or manufactured synthetically. They are often used to treat inflammation. Examples include cortisone and prednisone.
Immunocompromised — A state in which the immune system is suppressed or not functioning properly.
Meningitis — An inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord.
Pericardium — The tissue sac around the heart.


Most people who are infected with coccidiodomycosis only suffer from the mild, acute form of the disease and recover without further complications. Patients who suffer from chronic coccidiodomycosis and who have no underlying lung or immune system diseases also stand a good change of recovery, although they must be alert to a relapse.
The picture for patients with the disseminated form of the disease, many of whom have AIDS, is less positive. Untreated disseminated coccidiodomycosis is almost always fatal within a short time. With treatment, chance of survival increases, but the death rate remains high when meningitis or diffuse lung (pulmonary) disease is present. AIDS patients must constantly guard against relapse.


Because the fungus that causes coccidioidomycosis is airborne and microscopic, the only method of prevention is to avoid visiting areas where it is found in the soil. Unfortunately, for many people this is impractical. Maintaining general good health and avoiding HIV infection will limit coccidioidomycosis to the acute and relatively mild form in most people.



American Lung Association. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. (800) 586-4872.
Canadian HIV/AIDS Clearinghouse. 1565 Carling Avenue, Suite 400, Ottawa, ON K1Z 8R1. (877) 999-7740.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA 30333. (800) 311-3435, (404) 639-3311.
National Aids Hotline. (800) 342-2437.
Project Inform. 205 13th Street, #2001, San Francisco, CA 94103. (800) 822-7422.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a fungal disease caused by infection with Coccidioides immitis. The fungus grows in hot, dry areas, especially in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. Called also coccidioidosis and California disease. The disease occurs in a primary and in a secondary form. Primary coccidioidomycosis (called also valley fever and san joaquin valley fever) is due to inhalation of windborne spores and varies in severity from symptoms like those of the common cold to influenzalike symptoms. Secondary coccidioidomycosis is a virulent, chronic, progressive, granulomatous disease resulting in involvement of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues, viscera, central nervous system, and lungs. Treatment consists primarily of rest. Antibiotics may be given to prevent secondary bacterial infection. Amphotericin B or ketoconazole may be used to reduce risk of extrapulmonary dissemination or in the hope of having a remission after dissemination occurs.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


A variable, benign, severe, or sometimes fatal systemic mycosis due to inhalation of arthroconidia of Coccidioides immitis. In benign forms of the infection, the lesions are limited to the upper respiratory tract, lungs, and near lymph nodes; in a low percentage of cases, the disease disseminates to other visceral organs, meninges, bones, joints, skin, and subcutaneous tissues.
Synonym(s): Posadas disease
[coccidioides + G. mykēs, fungus, + -osis, condition]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


An infectious respiratory disease of humans and other animals caused by inhaling fungi of the genus Coccidioides. It is usually characterized by fever and respiratory symptoms but sometimes develops into a severe form in which the lungs, bones, skin, and central nervous system can be affected. Also called valley fever.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Coccidiosis Infectious disease An infection by spores of a soil fungus, Coccidioides immitis Clinical 60% of those infected are asymptomatic or have disease indistinguishable from URI, identified only by skin testing; in the rest, there is a 1-3 wk asymptomatic period, followed by a lower RTI, with fever, sweating, anorexia, weakness, arthralgias, cough, chest pain, weight loss, erythema nodosum Complications Pleural effusion, dissemination, possibly meningitis Prognosis Poor if disseminated Treatment IV amphotericin B; oral fluconazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A variable, sometimes fatal systemic fungal disease due to inhalation of arthroconidia of Coccidioides. In benign forms of the infection, the lesions are limited to the upper respiratory tract, lungs, and near lymph nodes; in a small percentage of cases, the disease disseminates to other organs, meninges, bones, joints, skin, and subcutaneous tissues.
[coccidioides + G. mykēs, fungus, + -osis, condition]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


A fungus infection caused by inhalation of the wind-borne spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis . The disease occurs in the Southern States of America and in South America and features an influenza-like illness followed, weeks or months later, by fever, loss of weight, breathlessness and coughing of blood.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Alejandro, Argentinian parasitologist, 1870-1902.
Posadas disease - a variable, benign, severe, or fatal systemic mycosis due to inhalation of dust particles containing arthroconidia of Coccidioides immitis. Synonym(s): coccidioidomycosis
Medical Eponyms © Farlex 2012


A variable, benign, severe, or sometimes fatal systemic mycosis due to inhalation of arthroconidia of Coccidioides immitis.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
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