The growing Valley fever outbreak has been claiming more and more victims in the US, and one of them is now speaking out about the years he spent fighting the fungus.
Scientists warn that as the world’s climate warms, the disease will become more prevalent.
The Coccidioidomycosis disease, which is caused by a fungus species, affects about 20,000 people annually, including 45-year-old business owner Nick Duggan.
The Australian man most likely contracted the illness in 2010 while quad biking in the San Diego desert during a visit to his wife’s relatives.
Nick suspects that he may have inhaled some spores that arose from the dust.
By the time medical professionals identified the problem, the infection had already spread to his spine and brain, resulting in meningitis, which rendered him bedridden for four months, followed by 5 years of checking in and out of the hospital.
Following his return from his summer vacation, he experienced extreme fatigue for the following six months, which continued until, in February 2011, he finally passed out in extreme pain.
Upon being rushed to the hospital, doctors ran some tests and then quarantined Mr. Duggan because they thought he might be contagious.
“It was just like a scene from one of those movies, where no one wants to touch you or get near you,’ he recalled.
He stayed in the hospital for the following four months, receiving three incorrect diagnoses.
Because they thought it was lung cancer, doctors removed a portion of his lung for a biopsy.
After numerous wrong diagnoses, they identified Mr. Duggan as having Valley fever, which got its name because Arizona and California account for 97% of cases.
With only ten cases ever documented in Australia—all of whom had died— knowledge of the fungal infection was limited at the time.
“If you get it as bad as I did, and if you survive, you are very prone to relapse. Because what happens is you cannot kill this, one spore can spawn a million spores. Your immune system is just always fighting to suppress it but it never can kill it.”
The family relocated to California in December of 2011 in order to be near medical professionals at UCSF since they were more knowledgeable about Valley fever.
There was still a lot that doctors in California did not fully comprehend, however.
He experienced a blockage in his CSF at one point, which rendered him paralyzed from the neck down due to the severity of the infection.
“I would have 5 doctors in my room and 5 doctors in the bay, and I would have 15 doctors down the hallway also waiting to see me because nothing made any sense. Look, this is irreversible, you will never walk again, you will never hold your kids, you will never be able to use anything from your neck down,” the man recalls.
He was repeatedly told by doctors that he would die, and they are still unsure of how he survived.
When Mr. Duggan was finally discharged from the hospital in 2015, he was taking so many meds to limit his pain that the pharmacist once refused to fill one of his prescriptions because she thought he was an addict.
“It was a real 5-year condensed period where I had a lot of the problems and then as I started to get a little better, I started to be able to do normal things again. Because there is no cure for this thing, you have to try and find the best out of it as you can. I still have a lot of issues. It is very hard to sleep at night, because your joints and muscles ache so bad, and that is something that will never go away.”