Should MLB Be Worried About Valley Fever?

Mike Trout, the Angels’ top prospect and number three on FanGraphs’ Top 100 Prospects list, hasn’t seen any game action in spring training. Since the start of spring camp, Trout’s been suffering from severe flu-like symptoms, lost ten pounds and been too weak to play in games. He says doctors have ruled out Valley Fever and are treating him with anti-viral medication.

But the fact that Trout had to answer questions about Valley Fever shows how much it has seeped into the baseball reporter’s lexicon. Just a few weeks ago, we learned that Mets first baseman Ike Davis has a mild case of Valley Fever. And, of course, there’s former Diamondbacks outfielder Connor Jackson, who contracted a severe form of the illness in 2009, leading to pneumonia. Jackson missed a good portion of the 2009 season, and has never regained the form or power he showed with Arizona.

What is Valley Fever and why are professional baseball players coming down with it?

Valley Fever is a fungal infection caused by coccidioides spores found in the soil in the desert southwest. The fungi are stirred into the air by activities that disrupt the soil, like farming, construction and wind storms. In its mildest form, Valley Fever symptoms include fever, cough, chest pain, night sweats, chills, headache, fatigue, joint aches, and a red spotty rash. More severe symptoms, like those experienced by Connor Jackson, include pneumonia and meningitis.  The course of the disease varies but it can take from six months to a year for a patient to fully recover.

According to the Valley Fever Center, a collaborative project of St. Joseph’s Hospital and the University of Arizona College of Medicine, more than 100,000 Arizona residents contract Valley Fever each year, a dramatic increase over the last several years. About 30,000-40,000 develop symptoms severe enough to seek medical attention, but because the disease presents like flu, many patients are misdiagnosed.

Most of the Valley Fever cases in Arizona come from Maricopa County, home to Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play their regular-season home games, and all ten Cactus League spring-training ballparks. Five of the spring-training complexes are also used in the Arizona Fall League. Many major-league players also have their offseason home in Arizona.

That’s a lot of major and minor leaguers in the Phoenix area playing and practicing baseball outdoors. And while baseball isn’t considered a risk factor like farming or construction, the more time one spends outdoors, the higher the risk of inhaling the coccidioides spores. The Mayo Clinic generally recommends that those with the highest risk of exposure wear masks, wet the soil around them, and stay inside during dust storms.

We contacted several teams with spring-training facilities in Arizona to see if they were taking any special precautions to lower the risk for players. None were willing to discuss Valley Fever with us.

Although Valley Fever doesn’t appear to present a significant health risk to players who live or play in Arizona, with two reported cases among major leaguers in the last three years, MLB should take steps to educate teams and players about the disease and how to lower the risk of infection.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Sandra Larson
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Sandra Larson
4 years 4 months ago

Thanks for writing about Valley Fever. The more people know about this disease, the more likely it will be that severe cases can be prevented by early diagnosis.

Spunky
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Spunky
4 years 4 months ago

An article that can improve the health and safety of players is the most important kind. Thank you for raising awareness, Wendy.

Cody
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Cody
4 years 4 months ago

Wendy, I have one question. Would the fact that most of the Valley Fever cases come from Maricopa County be because of the fact that is where most the population is? Or is population of that area of Arizona geographically spread out like the Central Florida and Southern California areas across multiple counties?

I ask because one would think that a Major League player faces less of a risk if they lived outside of Maricopa County during the off season if the spores are concentrated in Maricopa County.

Rob
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Rob
4 years 4 months ago

When do MLB players need to start worrying about the brown recluse spider?

Jorgath
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Jorgath
4 years 4 months ago

When (if my reading of brown recluse’s ranges is accurate) they play for Atlanta, Texas, Houston, Kansas City, St. Louis, or Pittsburgh.

M.Twain
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M.Twain
4 years 4 months ago

If they play for KC, Pittsburgh, or Houston, they’ve already got enough problems.

Jack
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Jack
4 years 4 months ago

If they play for Houston, their probably hoping for a Brown Recluse to put them out of their misery.

Nats Fan
Member
Nats Fan
4 years 4 months ago

they don’t because it wont kill you. Black Widows are all over Arizona and are a bigger issue because they like to climb into shoes

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 4 months ago

I’m not going to complain that you wrote a well-written, educational article. But honestly, the numbers you cite (~35,000 hospitalizations a year, 2 MLBers in 3 years) make me think this should probably rank #593,345 among illnesses/injuries that MLB players should worry about. It’s not like, for a pro baseball player, there are any real precautions that can be taken.

Preston
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Preston
4 years 4 months ago

Awareness is a real precaution, valley fever is completely treatable. Conor Jackson didn’t realize he had it for a long time, and the effects have been permanent.

yimriyahu is a dummy
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yimriyahu is a dummy
4 years 4 months ago

quit being dumb, there are more mlb players that have valley fever but dont know it.

Justin Bailey
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Justin Bailey
4 years 4 months ago

Didn’t Franklin Gutierrez have this recently too?

geo
Guest
geo
4 years 4 months ago

Gutierrez had an abdominal (ie, digestive) disorder that hampered him most of last season, not Valley Fever.

Choo
Member
4 years 4 months ago

If by digestive disorder you mean turned into a zombie by Milton Bradley, then yes, Gutierrez has a digestive disorder.

Frieda
Guest
Frieda
3 years 11 months ago

The fungus that causes Valley Fever, which is coccidioidomycosis, can hang out in your intestines….that will then appear to be a digestive disorder. To rule out (or confirm) Valley Fever you need a blood test for antibodies to the coccidioidomycosis fungus and a sputum test.

Slider
Guest
Slider
4 years 4 months ago

It was well known in the 1970’s that Fresno was a disease vector for Hispanics and Valley Fever. The San Joaquin Valley. is not the only place it festers yet I have not seen any new pathologies that show Hispanics are not the most likely victims. All the people I knew who contracted it were Hispanic.

billybob
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billybob
4 years 4 months ago

Also, Hispanics are probably the most likely to be working in construction and in agriculture, which are where the disease is most likely to manifest….

pft
Guest
pft
4 years 4 months ago

One thing to consider is that steroids lower your immune system, so you are more likely to be susceptible to certain infections. If players don’t know this they should.

This is not to say anyone who gets a rare infection is a steroid user.

Justin
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Justin
4 years 4 months ago

I lived in the Midwest all my life until I moved to the Phoenix area in 2008. About 3 months after I moved, I contracted valley fever and luckily I was diagnosed properly and treated early on. It does feel very similar to the flu that just never goes away. The major issue I had in addition to most of the flu-like symptoms, was my ear becoming plugged. It remained plugged for about 7 weeks which really caused issues with my balance to the point that it was difficult to walk in a straight line. It is definitely a scary illness.

West
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West
4 years 4 months ago

Arizona is the worst, this is old news.

Nats Fan
Member
Nats Fan
4 years 4 months ago

I say all the MLB franchises should all move back to Florida. Valley fever is a non issue there, and the state could use the boost of cash more than AZ.

Janice Arenofsky
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

As executive director of the Phoenix-based Arizona Victims of Valley Fever, I know that the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona is accurate in their statistics and information. Valley Fever is Arizona’s best-kept secret and one of the down sides to relocating to the state. The State Legislature and Chambers of Commerce try their best to soft pedal it so the state doesn’t lose tourist dollars. Many people–sports players, visitors, vacationers, etc.–fall victim to the disease every year. Besides this appalling reality, dogs, cats, horses and other wildlife also get infected; many die or are euthanized.And while for most people, the disease is more of an inconvenience, those who get a disseminated or chronic case can have serious problems for the rest of their life. Valley Fever can trigger meningitis, disabling fatigue, kidney problems, skeletal problems and many other complications. Hispanics, blacks (especially males), Filipinos and Native Americans are at higher risk as are people with autoimmune diseases (there are over 100 of these) and transplant patients. Any illness or medication that compromises the immune system places people at increased risk for valley fever. There is no way to prevent it, however avoiding dust storms is a must. Construction workers, archaeologists and gardeners are at increased risk due to the probability they are around recently disturbed soil, but as the spores can stay in the air for a long time, any one can get valley fever just by breathing.
Current antifungal drugs can, at best, put the disease in remission, but there is no cure yet. One reason is that since valley fever is an orphan disease that attracts little interest from pharmaceutical companies, Arizonans looking for a permanent cure are on their own–no monetary help from the state (which takes an “ostrich” approach) and as yet no significant help from foundations and private companies. If you really want to make a difference, complain to the Arizona DHS or state legislature about its immoral and unethical stance on valley fever, a life-threatening fungal disease that the state has known about for over 50 years. For more info, go to http://www.arizonavictimsofvalleyfever.org.

Dianne
Guest
Dianne
4 years 3 months ago

This is exactly what people need to know….I have battled this disease for the last year and have been a resident of Arizona for 8 years now….My husband has come down with the skin rash version of valley fever and my dog has also contracted it. This is Arizona’s dirty little secret that they hide because they are afraid of losing revenue. It took Arizona doctors almost 4 months to diagnose me! You would think that doctors who see it more often would know how to deal with it…maybe if the CDC makes a stink about it then the individual states who are plagued by it will no longer have the ability to downplay this horrible disease. I am pro awareness and will do anything in my power from this point to make others aware. I will be moving back to my home state of New jersey after dealing with this hidden secret. I am frustrated with a great deal about the State of Arizona! And no, i don’t reside in Maricopa County! People who don’t know the realities of the disease should probably keep their comments to themselves. As to pro baseball,yes two players in three years that have made the headlines let’s not forget about the pro golfers and the golfers who have not made it to the pro circuit who have had there careers ended because of this disease!

deadhead
Member
deadhead
4 years 4 months ago

Two cases in the Cactus League history, it’s getting dire. Time for panic, if you ask me. I’ll buy a rubber wrist band showing I support eradicating this disease.

NEPP
Guest
NEPP
4 years 4 months ago

Just give any player diagnosed with Valley Fever an exemption to use greenies…problem solved.

Lex Logan
Guest
Lex Logan
4 years 4 months ago

Bronson Arroyo was eventually diagnosed with mono, but it’s good that he, like Mike Trout, was tested for valley fever. That seems to be the main point. I don’t think concern = panic or over-reaction.

Tammy
Guest
Tammy
3 years 11 months ago

There are over 200,000 people diagnosed every year in the US. Those are just the ones reported, there are only 15 states required to report these cases. This number is more than West Nile and SARS combined yet the CDC has a major National campaign to advertise these other diseases. You do NOT have to be a construction works or work outside or in the dirt to contract this disease. All of the Federal Departments are aware of this disease for many years going all the way back to WWII. The disease at a National security level is considered a level three, the same as anthrax and listed in federal laws to be considered as a bioterrisom threat. The good news is the doctors are so close to a CURE at Valley fever center of excellence at University of Arizona and a VACCINE from TX. If you all are truly concerned and want to contribute and support the effort you need to petition your local, state and federal officials. The Federal Govt. has close to 5 billion dollars set aside for disease research to fund this cure that is out there. There also needs to be awareness brought to blood and organ donations, you might want to think about the effects of receiving blood that currently is not being screened, so you do not have to be that migrant worker or the blue collar worker to contract, that is a myth. Please help spread the good word that work is being done and a cure and vaccine is on the horizon. My husband has been a 9 year survivor with dessiminated valley fever, fungal spinal menigitis, hydrophylus all because he was mis diagnosed. The federal govt. and CDC needs to be more pro active in posting the true and accurate information to all physicians. With all of the domestic and international travel that is taking place, you may live in an area that is not considered endemic however products and produce are shipped from these areas. It is reported that close to 300,000 military men a women are affected with this disease. I think that is a little bit bigger story than 2 MLB players. Please contact you officials, lets get national recognition, American spend over $200 million annually to fight this disease and the funding for the cure is approx. $120 million and we will not have to worry about this disease anymore or where it comes from. Sincerely..

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