Valley Fever in Camelids Jan 30th, 2023   [viewed 4555 times]

What is Valley Fever and how does a camelid contract it?

Valley Fever is a disease primarily found in the lungs and is medically referred to as coccidioidomycosis. It's caused by a fungus Coccidioides sp., and its fungal spores are typically dormant until the monsoon in the southwest, when it becomes active and sometimes airborne.

According to veterinarians in the east valley of Maricopa County, the incidents of Valley Fever have become more common due to the disturbance of soil from the active construction, farming and vehicles disturbing the dirt. The fungal spores are disturbed within the soil, become airborne, and are inhaled by animals and people alike.

Once within the lungs, the spore changes physically due to the moist environment of the lungs and becomes a spherule. A spherule is a larger, multicellular structure, which eventually grows and bursts. It then releases endospores that then develop into more sperules.

At this point, one will start noticing a change in the llama. This generally occurs within three weeks of exposure.

The spores are not only found in the soil; the hay we feed our lamas may also contain Valley Fever spores. Again, the spores are inhaled and because lamas are semi-obligate nasal breathers, the dangers of exposure are just as great from the hay as the soil. Avoid feeding hay grown in arid or semi-arid soils - this not only includes the Phoenix and Tucson area, but the San Fernando valley of California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, southern New Mexico, and Mexico.

Distributing feed in raised feeders rather than the ground and removing the lamas from the southwestern portions of AZ prior to monsoon season will decrease exposure and risk. Prevention is key to avoid the loss of your animals. Symptoms of primary pulmonary Valley Fever are:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of energy

When Valley Fever spreads outside of the lungs, it causes disseminated disease. Commonly we will notice a lama down due to lameness, as the fungus has a predilection for infecting bones of the legs. Valley Fever can occur in almost any organ. It is emphasized that one should know the behaviors of their lamas as any change in behavior may indicate exposure to Valley Fever.

Signs of disseminated Valley Fever in llamas and alpacas are much like dogs and can include:

  • Lameness or swelling of limbs
  • Back or neck pain
  • Seizures and other manifestations of brain swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the chin, in front of the shoulder blades, or behind the stifles
  • Non-healing skin ulcerations or draining tracts that ooze fluid
  • Eye inflammation with pain or cloudiness
  • Unexpected heart failure
  • Swollen testicles

Many times a lama will skip signs of having the primary infection in the lungs and will only develop the symptoms of disseminated disease. We are often not aware until the lama is down.

Know the behavior of your animals; start treatment immediately. Until recently, it was believed there was no treatment available when Valley Fever presents in a lama. However, Tucson veterinarians have been successful recently in treating llamas and alpacas with the same medications used in canines.

It is important to seek early treatment of the disease to prevent death. The lama, like the canine, may be on the medication for life. It will not impact the animal’s quality of life and typically the symptoms dissolve over time.

Much of this information is from the University of Arizona in Tucson, The Valley Fever Center for Excellence.