PHOENIX - The symptoms of valley fever can hit you hard and quick but it’s often mistaken for a flu. The signs and symptoms of valley fever are similar to the flu and in some cases, they can even cause a severe rash.

Banner Health’s medical experts say that one out of every three cases of pneumonia is caused by valley fever. They consider valley fever as the Phoenix area's most commonly misunderstood illnesses.

“Valley fever is a fungal infection and it's caused by coccidioidomycosis and it lives in the soil in certain parts of the world,” said Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix. “The area between Phoenix and Tucson is a very hot area for this fungus.”

Galgiani says the person most at risk is someone with a weak or compromised immune system. A person with African and Filipino ancestry tend to have a higher risk for the infection, Galgani said, but no matter your background, awareness is your best defense.

“It’s considered an orphan disease because it only effects certain parts of the country," Galgani said. "We live in that part of the country but we have the most to gain when it comes to improvements of the disease."

People who are most at risk and most likely to be diagnosed?

-UA student-athletes are diagnosed with Valley fever four times more frequently than other students. Banner medical experts say this is because they’re tested more frequently.
-Seasonal residents often don’t know they’ve been infected for a while. They don’t experience symptoms until they’ve gone home in the fall/winter, and doctors outside the area aren’t familiar with the illness. Symptoms are similar to other health issues, and cause misdiagnosis.
-Pregnant women are at a higher risk for getting severe types of valley fever. Risk of severe infection is highest in the third trimester of pregnancy or immediately after birth.

For more information, visit the Arizona Department of Health's website.