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Coccidioidomycosis Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

Coccidioidomycosis is often misdiagnosed and treated as bacterial pneumonia, which is more common. The symptoms and initial testing are often not enough to distinguish it from other causes of infection.

What Are The Symptoms of Coccidioidomycosis?

Many people infected with coccidioidomycosis have no or minimal symptoms. When present, typical symptoms include:

Symptoms more typical of pneumonia due to coccidioidomycosis include:

  • Joint aches
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • A disease that lasts for weeks rather than days

A small number of people affected by coccidioidomycosis go on to develop chronic disease that may affect lung function and require prolonged treatment or even surgery. In some individuals with previously undiagnosed coccidioidomycosis, chest X-ray or CT scan findings may resemble lung cancer or other chronic lung infections, such as tuberculosis. Fewer than 1 percent of people infected will develop disseminated disease (disease outside of the lungs), which may involve the skin, bone, joints or meninges (protective layers around the brain).

What Are the Causes of Coccidioidomycosis?

A fungus, Coccidioides, causes coccidioidomycosis. This fungus is present in the soil in dry regions of the Western Hemisphere. It is acquired by inhalation of the organism into the lungs, where it multiplies and causes disease.

What Are the Risk Factors for Coccidioidomycosis?

People living in or traveling to endemic regions are at risk for acquiring the disease. Exposure to dust storms or areas where soil is being disturbed, such as construction sites, is associated with an increased risk. African-Americans and Filipinos seem to be at increased risk relative to Caucasians, perhaps related to a genetic predisposition to develop this infection. Persons with compromised immune systems are at increased risk of developing severe or disseminated disease.  These include:

  • HIV infection
  • People taking immune-suppressing medication therapy for a variety of autoimmune or rheumatologic diseases
  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • Diabetics

When to See Your Doctor

If you live in or have traveled to an area where coccidioidomycosis occurs and develop these symptoms, you should consult with your healthcare provider.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Last updated April 4, 2018.

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