A 33-year-old travel manager who suffered debilitating chest pain and weight loss was eventually diagnosed with life-threatening fungal infection Valley fever that is spreading across America.
Desiree Chan, who lives in Los Angeles, was struck by the pain as she got out the bath just before New Year’s Eve in 2020. She took painkillers, but her symptoms did not clear and over the next few days a phlegmy cough appeared making it hard to speak and she was left battling night sweats forcing her to keep changing clothes.
Doctors were stumped, with tests for pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV and others coming back negative. But eventually — during a ten-day trip to the ER — an antibody test came back positive for the fungal infection.
Valley fever is spreading in the United States thanks to climate change, with cases doubling to 20,000 annually over the last five years. It is caught by breathing in spores from disturbed soil in southwestern America and Washington, with those working rural jobs are most at risk.
Desiree Chan, 33, who lives in Los Angeles, was struck with back pain when she clambered out the bath just before New Year’s Eve in 2020. It left her bedridden for two days, with doctors prescribing her painkillers
But when the condition did not improve and after she developed a cough, Ms Chan was sent to the Emergency Room. There doctors ran countless tests before determining she had Valley fever
Chan said she was put on medication to fight the infection, but it left her feeling weak and fatigued meaning she was unable to return to work
In took until mid-May 2021 for her to start feeling better. It wsa at this time that her partner Lucas Marton, 34 (pictured above with Chan) proposed
The majority of Valley fever cases are mild, with patients suffering symptoms that clear up within a few weeks.
But up to one in ten infections with the disease — caused by the fungus Coccidioides — turn severe and take months to clear. At this time nodules form in the lungs and patients are struck with chest pain, weight loss and fever.
In rare cases, the fungal infection can be fatal.
People who have a weakened immune system, diabetes are pregnant or are from Black or Filipino backgrounds are most at risk.
What is Valley fever?
Valley Fever — also known as coccidioidomycosis — is caused when a soil fungus is breathed in after soil is disturbed.
In affected areas it is more likely when weather conditions are hot and dry and dust which carries the fungus is more common.
Most infections are mild and clear up on their own within a few days or weeks.
But five to ten percent of cases become severe, and take months to recover from.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches, night sweats and weight loss in the early stages.
Figures suggest about 20,000 Americans are now catching the disease every year, double the number from five years ago.
Those most at risk include people who work outside in areas where the fungus naturally occurs.
There’s no cure for Valley fever which can be deadly 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 to others.
Chan told the Insider the illness began one-and-a-half years ago when pain shot through her neck and back on New Year’s Eve when she was climbing out of the bath.
Six days later it developed into a phlegmy cough and the pain spread across the rest of her body.
Describing her symptoms, she said: ‘It felt like an elephant was stepping on my chest.’
Initially doctors thought she had run-of-the-mill back pain and gave her painkillers, but switched to cough medicine when the other symptom appeared.
But after the illness didn’t clear they sent her for X-rays which revealed small nodules insider her lungs — leading them to suspect pneumonia.
She was then admitted to the Emergecy Room for ten days where doctors ran a whole host of tests.
But swabs for tuberculosis, HIV, Legionnaires’, Covid and several other fungal infections all came back negative. Stumped, at one point doctors even considered a lung biopsy to check for cancer.
Eventually, however, an antibody test was run for Valley fever — which came back positive.
She was then put on 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 with brain fog and forced her to take several months off work.
It was 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 getting my strength back and feeling clear in the head.’
But it was at this time that her partner Lucas Marton, 34, proposed.
Chan isn’t sure how she caught the disease, although it is caught from disturbing soil and breathing in sores.
She has revealed her diagnosis and experience in order to raise awareness of the disaese.
The pair are pictured together. They are now engaged, following her battle with the disease
Valley fever is spreading in the United States and triggered 20,000 cases last year, more than double the number recorded five years ago (Picture of the fungus)
It has been recorded across the southwestern United States and in Washington. It is caught by breathing in spores released when soil is disturbed
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people in areas where Valley fever is present should avoid breathing in dust.
Staying inside during dust storms, avoiding gardening and digging, and using air filtration indoors are other ways to avoid the disease.
Surveillance suggests about 20,000 people catch the disease every year, although most cases are mild.
But experts warn many cases likely go undiagnosed because of a lack of awareness among medics, meaning they do not test for the disease.