Cocci Chronicles-Part III-Symptoms & Diagnosis (Maybe)
This is the third Part of a series about Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis). It is presented in a form that provides the essentials. More detailed/scientific information can be found at the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center of Excellence.
Valley Fever Symptom Spectrum
If you live in Arizona's Valley Fever Dust Belt (Tucson to Phoenix) chances are you have inhaled Cocci spores. However, not everyone gets a noticeable infection. Please reference the chart above.
60% of those that inhale cocci spores have No symptoms or Mild symptoms that do not require medical care.
30% have Moderate symptoms that do require some type of medical care.
10% have Severe symptoms that require intensive medical care.
It is important to realize that many Mild and Moderate Valley Fever symptoms are not caused by the infection directly but are caused by the body's immune system cranking up to fight the infection. For example, patients with Moderate symptoms tend to get nasty joint aches (Desert Rheumatism). These aches are not caused by cocci spores or spherules getting into the joints but caused by the body's immune system on overload.
However, in very Severe cases the infection can become Disseminated Valley Fever whereby the infection migrates from the lungs to other areas of the body. More on that in future Parts.
Is it the "VID" or the "FEVE"?
Some Valley Fever symptoms are similar to cold, flu and allergy systems. 2020 was probably the worst year to contract Valley Fever because COVID-19 added another affliction with many of the same symptoms.
When I was trying to figure out what was going on with my body, I found the chart below by the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical in Bakersfield, CA (Central Valley) and it helped immensely. The underlined/circled symptoms are those that I encountered. My case was Moderate (High).
My early symptoms started in July 2020 as a dry cough. This was a dry cough that would not quit. I tried cough drops and cough syrup but it really did not help. I saw my Primary Care Physician and Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) Physician and they both indicated the cough was caused by post-nasal drip related to my allergy (grass) and/or acid reflux. I tried a variety of medicines to treat these afflictions but still the dry cough persisted. Then they both suggested that I go to an Allergist.
On October 20, 2020, I went to the Allergist and he confirmed that I was allergic to grass. Big revelation! Right about this time I started getting really tired. So Dr. Mark asked the Allergist if I might have Valley Fever. He indicated it was a possibility and ordered a Chest X-Ray (10/21/20) which revealed some lung shadows.
Now the symptoms were really kicking in---night sweats so bad I had to change sleeping attire in the middle of the night, severe aches in my ankles and feet making it difficult to walk when first waking up, headaches, fatigue and slight rash on my hands. Plus I started losing weight---ultimately losing 10 lbs (175 lbs down to 165 lbs).
I was pretty confident all along that I did not have COVID-19 because I never lost my sense of taste or smell and ironically I never had a fever. Everyone has different types and intensity of symptoms but for me, the night sweats seem to be the signal that I had Valley Fever.
Next the Allergist ordered a Chest CT Scan (10/23/20) which showed several nodules in both lungs with one 2.5 cm in the left lung. At the same time, the Allergist ordered a series of blood tests including the Cocci Antibody Test (IgM & IgG) and the Immunoglobulin E (IgE).
Unfortunately, the Cocci Antibody test takes up to two weeks to get results and I did not get positive confirmation of my Valley Fever until 11/3/20---four months and three Physicians after the symptoms began!
I should also mention that my IgE level was 5,181 compared to a normal result <100. My immune system was in high gear!
How Did I Get Valley Fever?
I am an avid outdoors person---walk, hike, golf, swim, yard work, etc. The summer of 2020 was the hottest on record for the Tucson region, there were 4 wildfires in the Tortolitas, plenty of ground disturbance from housing construction and farming and plenty of windy days. So there were many ways that Cocci spores could find their way into my lungs.