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When going out into the desert, the last thing you would expect is to catch a cold. It is unlikely but when you start having symptoms similar to this disease, there could be a dangerous fungus that could be causing the cascade of symptoms.

Fungi are an under-suspected branch of pathogens that can cause suspicious densities on the lungs that can be quite dangerous if they are not discovered early on in the disease course. This is easier said than done, however, because they often have bizarre presentations that will make it hard for doctors to make the final diagnosis. The nodules they produce can often be mistaken for lesions for lung cancer and will present on chest X-ray like diseases that are signs of a lung infectionWe have already explored signs of histoplasmosis and blastomycosis that you need to familiarize yourself with but another type of fungus that you need to consider would be Coccidioidomycosis. Here, we will cover signs of Coccidioidomycosis that you need to be aware of. 

What You Need to Know About Coccidioidomycosis 

As we have seen with other fungi in the past investigations, Coccidioidomycosis is a fungal infection that can be linked to specific geographical areas. This is a type of fungus found in the soil of the southwestern United States, Mexico and all of Central America. It favors a hot and dry climate and as global temperatures are expected to increase in the coming decades, the prevalence of these infections is expected to rise. [1] It is also a spore that can be ingested through the air and the life cycle of the fungi is highly dependent on the local weather. It grows quickly after rain and will be able to float around when the desert winds sweep up the spores. [2] This is a fungus that is capable of causing up to 30 percent of community-acquired pneumonia infections in endemic areas [3]. 

Signs of Coccidioidomycosis can look quite similar to a fever at the initial presentation. A healthy individual may not have any obvious symptoms of the disease at the start and these minor problems may only last a week before symptoms resolve on their own. [4] More aggressive forms of this fungus can lead to fatigue, coughing, shortness of breaths, night sweats, muscle pains and a rash appearing on the upper body or legs. In about 10 percent of severe cases, this fungus is able to get into the lungs of the patients and cause more long-term problems. [5]

The diagnosis for this fungus can be complicated. A chest X-ray will be conducted and will show many nodules and a white-out lung field. This is where doctors may be confused with the diagnosis and think it could be a normal pneumonia infection. You may even be treated with typical antibiotics for pneumonia but when symptoms do not resolve after a few weeks of therapy, the disease will already have a good chance to spread out throughout the body. [6]

How Can You Treat it? 

The treatment of Coccidioidomycosis is highly dependent on the type of symptoms that a patient will present. If they suffer from just a primary pulmonary infection, antibiotics will be prescribed and the symptoms should resolve. If the disease has been able to spread out around the body and the infection has become disseminated, stronger antifungal agents will be necessary to fight the disease. Medications like fluconazole and itraconazole are both effective agents to consider. Fluconazole will be generally the first option used because it is easier to absorb through the body to rid yourself of those suspicious densities on the lungs. [7]

In most cases, the disease will resolve over time but two groups of people seem to be at the highest risk of severe infections that will require long-term therapy:

  • archeologists who spend a long duration of time digging through the desert, 
  • and those with weakened immune systems.

In these groups of patients, the most serious considering to worry about is the potential for infections of the brain. Meningitis can be caused by this fungus and patients may only present with severe headaches and changes in their level of consciousness before the disease is suspected. [8]

This is a disease that can be lethal. Studies show that over an 18-year period, over 3,000 deaths were reported because of the disseminated form of the disease. If you have been keeping up with the other fungi we have covered so far, this is much more dangerous compared to Blastomycosis. Your risk increases if you are elderly, live in the California or Arizona-area or are Native America or living near the American border in Mexico. [9]

As you can see, signs of Coccidioidomycosis is a type of infection that you do not want to miss. It can be lethal if you let the disease progress too extensively before seeking medical help. If you travel to a desert area or live in close proximity to this terrain, be vigilant when symptoms arise. 

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