A 33-year-old travel manager who suffered from debilitating chest pain and weight loss was eventually diagnosed with the life-threatening fungal infection Valley fever that is spreading across America.
Desiree Chan, who lives in Los Angeles, was struck by the pain when she got out of the bath just before New Year’s Eve in 2020. She took painkillers but her symptoms did not go away and over the next few days a mucous cough appeared making it difficult to speak and she continued to fight night sweats that kept her changing clothes.
Doctors were stunned, with tests for pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV and others coming back negative. But in the end — during a 10-day trip to the ER — an antibody test came back positive for the yeast infection.
Valley fever is spreading in the United States thanks to climate change, with cases doubling to 20,000 per year in the past five years. It is caught by inhaling spores from disturbed soil in the American Southwest and Washington, with those who work in rural areas most at risk.
Desiree Chan, 33, who lives in Los Angeles, suffered back pain when she climbed out of the bath just before New Year’s Eve in 2020. She was bedridden for two days and doctors prescribed her painkillers.
But when the condition did not improve and after she coughed, Ms. Chan was sent to the emergency room. There, doctors performed numerous tests before determining that she had valley fever
Chan said she was on medication to fight the infection but she felt weak and fatigued which meant she was unable to return to work
It took until mid-May 2021 before she started to feel better. It was at this point that her partner proposed Lucas Marton, 34 (pictured above with Chan)
Most cases of valley fever are mild, with patients having symptoms that resolve within a few weeks.
But up to one in ten infections with the disease — caused by the fungus Coccidioides — become serious and take months to clear. At this time, nodules form in the lungs and patients are afflicted with chest pain, weight loss and fever.
In rare cases, the fungal infection can be fatal.
People with weakened immune systems, diabetes who are pregnant, or are of black or Filipino background are most at risk.
What is valley fever?
Valley Fever – also known as coccidioidomycosis – is caused when a soil fungus is inhaled after the soil has been disturbed.
In affected areas, weather conditions are more likely to be warm and dry and dust that brings the fungus along with it is more likely to occur.
Most infections are mild and go away on their own within a few days or weeks.
But five to ten percent of cases become severe and take months to recover.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, and weight loss in the early stages.
Figures suggest that about 20,000 Americans now get the disease each year, double the number five years ago.
Those most at risk are people who work outdoors in areas where the fungus occurs naturally.
There is no cure for valley fever, which can be fatal in rare cases, with doctors instead focusing on early detection to treat the disease.
There is no cure, with treatment instead relying on early diagnosis to quickly curb symptoms. Infected patients cannot pass the fungus on to others.
Chan told the Insider the illness started a year and a half ago when pain shot through her neck and back on New Year’s Eve as she climbed out of the tub.
Six days later it developed into a mucous cough and the pain spread to the rest of her body.
She described her symptoms and said, “It felt like an elephant stepped on my chest.”
At first, doctors thought she had regular back pain and gave her painkillers, but switched to cough medicine when the other symptom appeared.
But after the disease didn’t go away, they sent her for X-rays that revealed small nodules in her lungs — leading them to suspect pneumonia.
She was then admitted to the emergency room for ten days, where doctors ran a series of tests.
But Pap smears for tuberculosis, HIV, Legionnaires’ Disease, Covid and several other fungal infections all came back negative. At one point, doctors even considered a lung biopsy to check for cancer.
However, an antibody test was eventually performed for valley fever – which came back positive.
She was then given heavy doses of the antifungal fluconazole to fight the infection, which were administered until November 2021.
But Chan said they sapped her appetite, left her brain fog and forced her to take several months off.
It took another six months before she began to feel more recovered.
She said, “It wasn’t until mid-May of this year that I started to feel like I was regaining my strength and clear-headed.”
But it was at that time that her partner Lucas Marton, 34, proposed to her.
Chan is not sure how she contracted the disease, although it is caught by disturbing the soil and breathing sores.
She has revealed her diagnosis and experience to raise awareness of the disease.
The couple is pictured together. They are now engaged, after her battle with the disease
Valley fever is spreading in the United States, causing 20,000 cases last year, more than double the number recorded five years ago (photo of the fungus)
It has been recorded in the southwestern United States and in Washington. It is caught by inhaling spores released when the soil is disturbed
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people in areas where valley fever is present should avoid breathing dust.
Staying indoors during dust storms, avoiding gardening and digging, and using air filtration indoors are other ways to prevent the disease.
Surveillance suggests that about 20,000 people get the disease each year, although most cases are mild.
But experts warn that many cases are likely to go undiagnosed due to a lack of awareness among medics, meaning they don’t test for the disease.