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Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever) is a systemic fungal infection more common in the Southwestern United States The fungus, Coccidioides immitis, can cause mild to severe respiratory disease in animals and people. The mild form of the disease is more common and can be easily treated; the more severe forms of the disease can be life threatening.
Coccidioides, lives in the soil. The main route of infections in pets and people is by inhalation of the fungus. After the fungus is inhaled, most infections will occur within 1 to 3 weeks. Studies indicate that most people that live in endemic areas will become infected; however, most infections do not cause symptoms or only cause mild signs of disease. A small percentage of animals or people will develop more severe symptoms that will require treatment. Animals that have a suppressed immune system are much more likely to develop the more severe form of the disease.
The most common symptom in dogs is a cough. Many dogs will also have a fever, decreased appetite and weight loss. In severe cases, the infection can disseminate (spread) to other parts of the body. Dogs with the disseminated form will often have additional symptoms of lameness, swollen lymph nodes and draining skin lesions. The disease can often become chronic, and untreated dogs with the disseminated form, will often die from the disease.
Diagnosis of Valley Fever is based on a combination of history, symptoms, x-rays, identification of the organism, and blood testing. Treatment consists of long-term oral antifungal agents. The most common antifungal agent for dogs and cats is fluconazole. The length of treatment is variable but may be lifelong.
Prevention consists of avoidance of areas known to have Coccidioides in the soil. Currently, there is not a vaccine available, but research to develop one is ongoing.
Two diseases prevalent in this area are Valley Fever and Ehrlichiosis (Tick Fever).
Canine ehrlichiosis (Tick Fever) is a disease of dogs and wild canids. Ehrlichiosis is most commonly cause by Ehrlichia canis, but there are multiple strains of Ehrlichia, affecting different species of animals. Ehrlichia organisms are transmitted by the Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) which is prevalent in this area.
Ehrlichiosis can have three phases: The acute phase develops 1 to 3 weeks after the tick bite and lasts about 2 – 4 weeks. Anemia, fever, depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, joint pain, stiffness and bruises are often seen. Symptoms in this phase are often severe enough to seek treatment; however, the symptoms may subside, and the dog enters the subclinical phase. In the subclinical phase, the animal may appear normal or show only slight anemia. During this phase, the Ehrlichia live inside the spleen. This phase can last for months or years. Ultimately, the dog either eliminates the Ehrlichia from the body or the infection may progress to the chronic phase. The chronic phase can be either mild or severe. Weight loss, anemia, neurological signs, bleeding, inflammation of the eye, edema in the hind legs and fever may be seen.
Blood testing is the means of diagnosis. Treatment with the antibiotic, Doxycycline, is instituted for a minimum of 8 weeks. Some dogs will need blood transfusions or intravenous fluids depending on the severity of the disease. Generally, the prognosis during the acute phase is good, if the animal is properly treated. Dogs that go on to the chronic phase have a poorer prognosis.
Tick control is the main way to prevent ehrlichiosis. Products which repel and kill ticks are excellent choices. There is no vaccine to prevent ehrlichiosis.