• A pulmonary fungal infection caused by the dimorphic fungus, Coccidioides immitis, which is endemic to the southwestern deserts of the United States:
    • Transmitted through inhalation of air-borne fungal spores (arthroconidia)
    • Rarely progresses to involve extrapulmonary sites (<1%): bone, CNS, endocrine/metabolic, musculoskeletal, nervous, pulmonary, skin, and exocrine systems
    • Incubation period is 1 to 4 weeks after exposure.
    • Pulmonary infection most common clinical manifestation; most commonly subacute; more than half of infections are subclinical (1).
  • Synonym(s): desert rheumatism; cocci; valley fever


Affects patients of all ages, with no gender predilection


  • In the United States: 150,000 cases estimated per year (0.5% extrapulmonary); only about 10,000 cases are actually reported. Overall incidence is rising; 73% increase in African Americans, who also have a higher rate of invasive disease than Caucasians (2)
  • Endemic in
    • Southern Arizona
    • Southern and Central California
    • Southwestern New Mexico, West Texas
    • Parts of Mexico, Central and South America
  • Increased construction activities, such as home-building, especially in the southwestern United States, has likely resulted in increased aerosolization of fungal spores from soil, leading to increased exposure to and infection with C. immitis.
  • From 1940 to 2015, 47 worldwide outbreaks were reported (1,500 cases total) (3). Outbreaks occurred after an earthquake, a large dust storm, construction, archaeological sites, military maneuvers, and laboratory exposures (3).

Up to 17–29% of community-acquired pneumonias in endemic areas (1)

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • C. immitis is a soil-dwelling fungus well adapted to arid conditions. The organism can remain dormant in the soil for years.
  • Liberated spores (arthroconidia) are inhaled when soil is disturbed. Upon inhalation, spores convert to spherules in the lung to cause clinical disease.
  • Infrequently, spores are introduced through a wound.

Risk Factors

  • Certain groups are more prone to dissemination:
    • Immunosuppressed patients: chemotherapy and/or immunosuppressive drugs for cancer or transplant patients, diabetes mellitus, HIV/AIDS, long-term steroid use, transplant patients, pregnancy
    • Blacks and Filipinos at higher risk
  • Previously infected patients can experience relapse years later through cell-mediated immune deficiency.
  • CNS involvement more common in young white men

General Prevention

  • No person-to-person spread
  • Lab cultures are highly contagious (inhalation); use caution when handling specimens.
  • High-risk patients should avoid archaeological digs, spelunking, or exposure to dust in endemic areas (difficult due to construction, dust storms, etc.).

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