What Is Disseminated Coccidioidomycosis?

Disseminated coccidioidomycosis is an airborne illness caused by the fungus Coccidioides immitis. When the infection is in your lungs, it’s known as valley fever. When it spreads from the lungs to other tissues, it’s known as disseminated coccidioidomycosis.

The condition requires immediate medical attention. Antifungal agents are the usual treatment. The infection can lead to a chronic condition if your body isn’t able to fight the fungus. Disseminated coccidioidomycosis can be fatal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 60 percent of people who come into contact with the fungus don’t have any symptoms.

When the infection is in your lungs, it can cause flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • a cough
  • chest pain
  • a fever
  • chills
  • night sweats
  • fatigue
  • joint aches
  • a red, spotty rash
  • shortness of breath

This type of infection is commonly known as valley fever.

If your body isn’t able to fight the infection on its own or you have a compromised immune system, coccidioidomycosis can develop into a chronic infection. The symptoms resemble tuberculosis and include:

  • a cough
  • chest pain
  • a fever
  • weight loss
  • lung nodules
  • blood in the sputum
  • the development of pneumonia

Disseminated coccidioidomycosis occurs when the infection spreads to other parts of the body from the lungs. The symptoms depend on where the infection spreads but can often include:

  • ulcers, skin lesions, or nodules that are more serious than a rash
  • lesions in bones, including the skull or spine
  • painful and swollen joints, especially in the knees or ankles
  • meningitis, which is the most deadly complication

Let a doctor know if you have any of these symptoms and have recently traveled to or live in a high-risk area.

Coccidioidomycosis is an infection caused by the fungus C. immitis. This fungus is present in the western deserts of the United States and in Central and South America. In the United States, it’s usually present in:

  • California’s San Joaquin Valley
  • southern Arizona
  • southern New Mexico
  • western Texas

The fungus lives in the soil. The infection occurs when a person breathes in dust particles containing the fungus. The fungus doesn’t spread from person-to-person.

Infection rates are highest in the late summer and early fall because the soil is dry and dust storms occur often. The fungus is unable to spread during periods of rainfall when the soil is damp.

Anyone can inhale the fungus and become infected, but you have a greater risk of infection if you:

  • are a young infant, a child, or an older adult
  • inhale a lot of dust, such as while in military training, working on a ranch, or working in construction, agriculture, or archeology
  • have diabetes
  • are pregnant
  • are of African-American, Filipino, Asian, or Hispanic descent
  • have had an organ transplant
  • have AIDS or HIV

Your doctor will first take your medical history. You should let your doctor know if you’ve recently traveled to a high-risk area.

Your doctor will then perform one or more tests.


Your doctor may order X-ray images of your lungs to look for an infection or blockage.

Sputum Smear or Culture

Your doctor may use a cotton ball or swab to take a sample of your sputum. They’ll then test the sample for the presence of the fungus.

Blood Tests

Your doctor might take a sample of your blood to see if your body made antibodies against the fungus.


Your doctor may take a sample of your tissue or affected areas. This confirms if the fungus is in other parts of your body.

It can take six months to a year to fully recover from the infection.

Rest and fluids give your body time to fight the infection, and you’ll usually fully recover. If the infection gets worse or spreads to other parts of your body, your doctor will prescribe antifungal agents for you, such as amphotericin B and fluconazole.

The infection can return after treatment if your immune system is weak. If this happens, your doctor will monitor you and give you additional treatment until the infection is gone.

If this infection isn’t treated, the complications from it can include:

  • severe pneumonia
  • ruptured lung nodules
  • meningitis
  • other complications ranging from skin lesions to heart problems depending on where the infection has spread

Complications from disseminated coccidioidomycosis can be severe, and they can even be fatal. It’s essential to seek treatment as soon as possible if you believe you might have this infection.

To avoid coming into contact with the fungus, you should take these precautions around dust in high-risk areas:

  • Make sure to stay out of dust storms.
  • If you have to go out on a windy, dusty day, wear a mask.
  • Wet soil before digging or working outside.
  • Close doors and windows to keep the dust from getting in.

As the high-risk areas develop, the infection rate will decrease. This is due to the development of paved roads and landscaping that will reduce the spread of the fungus.