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Valley Fever Is Spreading: What You Need to Know Before Your Roadtrip

Valley Fever Is Spreading: What You Need to Know Before Your Roadtrip

It’s possible you’ve never heard of Valley Fever before. Unless you’ve lived or traveled in the Southwestern United States, you wouldn’t have any reason to know it. However, this fungal infectious disease has been spreading due to ideal environmental conditions, and shouldn’t be mistaken for the common cold.

Although it’s relatively uncommon to develop symptoms, your likelihood of catching Valley Fever significantly increases when traveling to the Southwest. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe on your roadtrip.

Valley Fever Is On The Rise

The American Lung Association cites that cases of Valley Fever have increased 400% in the last few decades. Why is this happening? Dust storms due to climate change have increased in areas where it is endemic.

The Southwest is getting drier due to climate change, creating the perfect atmosphere for Valley Fever to spread.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) details this change in a recent study. The NOAA explains that dust storms have more than doubled since 1988 due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions in the southwest United States.

Although we’ll know more with further research, the NOAA believes climate change is the strongest explanation for the rise in Valley Fever cases. According to CDC data, reported Valley fever cases in the U.S. increased by 32% between 2016 and 2018.

What Is Valley Fever?

Valley Fever is a fungal disease common in areas of the southwest United States. Also called coccidioidomycosis, the condition is caused by a fungus living in the soil. People can get sick when they breathe in these microscopic fungal spores. 

Most people don’t get sick, and if they do, they heal on their own within a few weeks. But 30% of those infected end up needing medical care and antifungal medication to resolve the symptoms. It’s most common in people aged 60 or older, or those with weaker immune systems.

Roughly 200 people die of Valley Fever every year.

Cait in the desert with Mocha and Bella
You can’t spread Valley Fever to your dogs, but they can catch it on their own.

Fortunately, Valley Fever isn’t contagious. You can’t spread it from person to person or from person to animal. However, dogs can get Valley Fever. Like humans, most dogs will never get sick.

However, you might suspect your pet has gotten Valley Fever if you notice coughing, lack of energy, and weight loss. In some cases, the disease can cause complications that can be fatal. Call a veterinarian if you have any concerns.

Valley Fever isn’t the only risk when RVing with your dogs. Make sure you’re fully prepared for any situation with these 7 Essential Dog Camping Gear Items You Can’t Forget.

What Are the Symptoms of Valley Fever?

Again, most people do not get sick and never have symptoms. However, you may need to visit a doctor if you develop a cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, night sweats, muscle aches, joint pains, or a rash on your upper body or legs.

These symptoms may appear long after you’ve left an area where Valley Fever is prevalent. You might be back home in New York for two weeks before seeing any symptoms.

Could Be Valley Fever

What Are the Risks of Valley Fever?

If you travel to the southwest United States, Mexico, or Central or South America, where it’s more common, you have a shallow risk of infection. Your risk increases if you travel to a very dusty area. Also, if you’ve had Valley Fever before, it’s improbable that you’ll get it again. Your body will fight off the disease, and your immune system will most likely protect you.

If you catch Valley Fever, there are risks of it causing more serious complications. It’s rare, but the fever can spread to organs, bones, and lymph nodes in those with very weak immune systems. Another rare occurrence is meningitis, which affects the spine and brain. Bad cases can last for years or decades.

Again, severe Valley Fever is very rare. Only five to ten percent of people who contract the disease will develop problems with their lungs. And an even smaller percentage of people will experience problems with their central nervous system, skin, or bones.

Arid desert landscape where Valley Fever can spread
The more dusty the area, the more your risk of contracting the disease increases.

Who Can Catch Valley Fever?

Anyone can catch Valley Fever, but it’s most common in people over age 60. There are also groups of people with a higher risk. People with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, those with diabetes, and people of color or Filipino descent are considered more at-risk.

Also, people who work in dusty environments, such as construction workers and agricultural workers, have a higher chance of catching Valley Fever.

Where Is The Fungus Most Common?

As mentioned before, Valley Fever is common in the southwest United States, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, and even West Texas. It lives in the dust and soil of these areas. The state with the largest number of cases, however, is Arizona. Fortunately, this is also the state best equipped to handle Valley Fever, monitor reports, and raise awareness of the diease.

Researcher speculate that rainy periods followed by prolonged droughts create the environment for Valley Fever spores to spread. During the rain, the fungi grows. Once the drought comes, the fungus dries out and are carried away by the winds. Research has shown a correlation between increased Valley Fever and drier climates due to climate change.

How to Avoid Getting Valley Fever on Your Road Trip

It’s very difficult to avoid breathing in the fungus when it is present and dusty. But there are a few prevention tips to keep yourself healthy on your road trip.

Avoid Areas with a Lot of Dust & Wind

Areas like construction sites and excavation sites create a lot of dust. Try to avoid these areas and others with a significant amount of dust, especially if you’re at risk. If you must be in these areas, wear an N95 respirator to help protect you. 

Avoid going outdoors on windy days, and keep an eye on the weather conditions to reduce the chance of being caught in a dust storm.

Camper van on dirt road
Stay indoors during dust storms. And if you’re traveling in a camper, use a high-quality RV air conditioner filter.

If you encounter a dust storm, stay indoors with doors and windows closed. And even though you might stay indoors often to reduce your exposure, use quality air filtration in your home to further protect you and your loved ones.

Pro Tip: Make sure your RV AC filter is up to par when traveling to the Southwest. Learn How to Clean and Replace Your RV Air Conditioner Filter.

Clean Skin Injuries Well

Open wounds are exposed to the air and dust. Clean these skin injuries well so that you don’t develop an infection. 

Avoid Activities That Include Close Contact with Dust and Dirt

At-risk individuals should avoid activities like yard work and gardening. Close contact with the ground can increase your chances of getting Valley Fever. Particularly disturbing ground that hasn’t been touched in a long time can kick up spores in wait.

Desert hiking
If you’re hiking in a dusty area, consider wearing an N95 mask or find a less dusty place to enjoy the outdoors.

What to Do If You Develop Symptoms of Valley Fever

If you develop symptoms lasting a week or longer, call your physician. You may need antifungal medication. Remember, Valley Fever is not contagious, so you don’t need to quarantine from anyone or your pets.

Are the Risks Worth It When Visiting the Southwest? 

Should you cancel your trip to the Southwest? Absolutely not! 

Go enjoy the great outdoors of Utah, New Mexico, California, or Arizona. But go with knowledge of Valley Fever and these preventative tips. Know how to protect yourself and what to look out for. Remember, although prevalent in this part of the country, Valley Fever is not contagious, and the likelihood of developing symptoms is slim. 

So, pack your bags and enjoy the ancient history, cultures, and beautiful scenery of the Southwest! 

A road in the Southwest overlooking a valley
Don’t cancel your road trip to the Southwest! Instead, use common sense and avoid highly dusty areas.

The dry heat and desert lands of the Southwest pose their own set of risks, from dehydration to venomous insects. If your road trip includes stops in Arizona, be sure you know how to Avoid These Arizona Insects When Camping and Hiking.

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Ruth V.

Wednesday 13th of October 2021

One of the symptoms not mentioned in this article is extreme fatigue and that the illness can last for a lot longer than 2 weeks. A blood test will verify if you have it or have had it. I lived in the San Joaquin Valley CA in the 1970’s and contracted VF at age 18. Believe me it was no fun.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 13th of October 2021

Ugh no, have you had it since or do you get an immunity?

Lish Early

Wednesday 13th of October 2021

Valley Fever is horrible. Our red heeler mix got it when we lived in Arizona and had respiratory issues for the rest of his life. He developed complications from it and died way too young because of it.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 13th of October 2021

Im so sorry to hear that :(

John

Tuesday 12th of October 2021

What a timely and informative blog. Thanks for posting this.

Now I know why construction sites in the Coachella Valley always have covered fencing with lots of signs about dust control and who to call if dust is blowing out of the site.

Phil

Tuesday 12th of October 2021

I know of people that have lost their hair from Valley Fever. I have heard of Valley Fever causing death also.

I had a friend whose dog developed sores all over and finally, they said it was Valley Fever.

Enjoy the southwest but this fungus can cause some very strange symptoms.

It used to seen mainly in Phoenix valley and Bakersfield valley, thus the nick name.

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