You should know about Valley fever

When it comes to Valley fever, awareness is key. Unfortunately, too few people know much of anything about it. A fungus that lives in the soil throughout the Southwest causes this terrible lung infection. The Pacific Crest Trail likely passes through areas where this fungus exists.

According to doctors at U.C. Davis Medical Center, Valley fever is on the rise in California. While the infection is an annoyance for most, it can be more serious or even life-threatening. More than 150,000 cases occur each year, although actual reporting shows much less.

Valley fever, or Coccidioides, is often misdiagnosed as another ailment, in part because many health care providers have a low awareness of it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages you to talk to your doctor about the condition if you have symptoms. Since many PCT hikers travel from other states and countries, it seems likely that doctors who are far removed from the Southwest would be even less likely to consider this fungus.

Valley fever poster

Please tell others about the threat of Valley fever.

We recently heard from Valley fever sufferer, Marty Klinger of San Diego, California, whose brother hiked the PCT this year.  She said she dropped him at the PCT southern terminus, hiked in the area a bit and started showing symptoms a week later. She was first diagnosed with the flu, then lung cancer, and underwent months of testing and procedures before doctors hit on the right diagnosis and treatment regimen. It was a terrible thing to go through.

“My concern has always been for hikers who may come in contact with it before heading home to a state or country where the disease is unknown,” Marty said. “I live in San Diego and even here, where its more common, the doctors weren’t familiar enough to diagnose my illness properly. What will happen to an infected hiker who doesn’t live in Arizona or California, where at least someone knows about it? The emotional strain, medical costs, and time off work could have been avoided if I was more prepared with information.”

Map of the approximate areas (“endemic areas”) where Coccidioides/Valley fever is known to live or is suspected to live in the United States and Mexico. Source: accessed on 12/23/16

Map of the approximate areas (“endemic areas”) where Coccidioides is
known to live or is suspected to live in the United States and Mexico. Source: accessed on 12/23/16

The CDC says this: “In areas where Valley fever is common, it’s difficult to completely avoid exposure to the fungus because it is in the environment. There is no vaccine to prevent infection. That’s why knowing about Valley fever is one of the most important ways to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment. People who have Valley fever symptoms and live in or have visited an area where the fungus is common should ask their doctor to test them for Valley fever. Healthcare providers should be aware that Valley fever symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and should consider testing for Valley fever in patients with flu-like symptoms who live in or have traveled to an area where Coccidioides lives. ”


Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Manager, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.