Diagnosing Valley Fever cases complicated by COVID-19

By March 31, 2021 No Comments

Rasha Kuran, infectious diseases physician and associate director of the Valley Fever Institute, Bakersfield, CA, says distinguishing between influenza and COVID-19 has been challenging, according to Valley Public Radio.

Most valley fever patients have symptoms similar to the cold or flu—some can even clear the disease without knowing they had it at all. But in others, it can manifest into a long term, disseminated illness, where the fungus leaves the lungs and invades the rest of the body. In rare cases, valley fever can cause death. 

COVID-19 and valley fever may both be respiratory illnesses, but there are key differences: coronavirus is contagious, valley fever isn’t. The body’s immune system has specific immune cells for handling viral and fungal infections, explains Katrina Hoyer, associate professor at University of California, Merced, who studies valley fever. “There are different immune cells that are important for each of these types of infections, but there’s also a lot of overlap in what those immune responses look like,” she says. 

Doctors have identified a few symptoms that likely distinguish COVID-19 from valley fever—typically, a sore throat, and loss of smell and taste are indicators of COVID-19. But if you live in a valley fever hot spot, you might want to also rule out a fungal infection by getting tested, says Arash Heidari of Kern Medical’s Valley Fever Institute. Some patients only report one of these symptoms, while others may have many or most:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chest Pain
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Rash on upper body or legs
  • Night Sweats
  • Chills

In California, Valley Fever is most common in the Central Valley and Central Coast, but there are many areas throughout the state where Valley Fever may be found. Valley Fever is a disease that can affect anyone that lives, works, or spends time in areas where it is common. 

Valley fever numbers are expected to be lower in 2020 than previous years, Heidari adds. That’s because wearing masks and staying indoors to stop the spread of COVID-19 may be helping decrease valley fever infections, too. But Heidari is concerned that the low numbers might also be from data reporting issues and people’s reluctance to go to the doctors’ office to get tested during the pandemic.

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