September 20, 2013

Valley Fever

Beautiful Gin.
Not all has been roses and sunshine since we moved to the hot Sonoran desert. The first real setback came a couple weeks ago when Gin got suddenly sick. That Friday morning I took them on my regular morning walk, that's a couple miles long and goes by a nice little river where the girls can go for a swim! Everything seemed normal and it was a wonderful morning and seemed just a little cooler than usual so I was fully enjoying my, for once, sweatless walk! Later in the afternoon I wanted to take the girls out again on the yard but Gin got up really slowly, almost like she didn't hear me calling her. Finally she got up and we went out. I didn't think much of it until that evening when she all of a sudden couldn't walk straight! That's when I got worried and we headed down to the vet. She was wobbly, and couldn't even jump into the car. The vet asked about all her symptoms, and we really couldn't tell her much. Yes, she had coughed a couple times during the past days, like once a day maybe. And one time she sort of coughed some slime out but that was over a week ago. Nothing I would ever had worried about. No appetite loss or sneezing. I was wondering about these questions, they seemed a little odd since I was thinking maybe she had meningitis or some neurological problem. Until the doctor said there is a disease called valley fever in the area. After getting blood work done and realizing she had fever we agreed to take the valley fever test which is pretty expensive (at least compared to veterinary costs in Finland), even though the doctor said she didn't have the typical symptoms of that disease either. They gave us antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to start with and a painful 5 days of waiting started.

And she got worse. By the time the test results for valley fever came, she was hardly moving. She couldn't get up, she would fall when trying to go to the bathroom and literally looked so miserable that we were sure she was dying. She slept between us on the bed and I was hoping that she would still be alive when I wake up the next morning. And of course we found all these possible diseases she could have from the internet and everything seemed hopeless. Cancers, autoimmune diseases... the list looked bad. The test results finally came and it was positive for valley fever. The teeter count was the highest possible. It was bad. We felt relieved to know what was causing her pain but at the same time everything we read about valley fever wasn't all that positive. Some dogs did die of it. Some dogs needed to be on medication for the rest of their lives. Some maybe JUST a year. Human's can get it too! This was shocking. How did I not know about this?

After doing countless searches on valley fever on the internet, talking with the vet, reading their info on it, I felt I finally got used to the idea, that first, it exists and second, my dog has it and third, it's not the end of the world. It is caused by a fungus that lives in the soil (as a soil scientist I should know right?), but it's only present in a small area of the world. Mainly the Sonoran Desert (which makes it common in large parts of Arizona), some desert areas in Southern California, New Mexico and some parts of Texas. You get it by inhaling the dirt where the fungus grows, so if you live in a area where it's common you're more than likely to get it. The thing is that most people or dogs don't get sick. In dogs about 30 % can't fight it off with their own immune system. Sometimes they get sick but it's not bad. Sometimes, and its a very small chance, they get really sick and sadly Gin was one of them. Normally the symptoms include coughing and sneezing and fever that gradually gets worse and later on if the infection spreads from the lungs it can go into the bones and the nerve system and cause pain (limps) and a variety of other symptoms. The doctor said that most likely both of our dogs got exposed at the same time and Vanilla seems fine, so I'm hoping this will be the end of it. Luckily it's not contagious.

Now we are taking everything one day at a time. Gin has been on antifungal medication for a couple weeks and is already doing a lot better! According to the vet we'll need to keep her on meds for over a year, since the infection got so bad, but at least she's alive and happy again! She's back to her normal behavior minus a couple set backs here and there. I suppose it's normal to have ups and downs in her recovery but we can already see the light at the end of the tunnel! I'm trying to keep her hole-digging to a minimum but it's hard when all you have around is dirt and ground squirrel holes that smell so yummy! I would love to let her be the dog she is and do her thing but valley fever definitely looms in my subconscious. Maybe I'll have to keep my yard-work to a minimum too, hmm.

The irony of the whole issue is that we just spent almost a year sailing around Southern U.S and Central America. Tropical countries with thousands of diseases and stray dogs running amongst our dogs and nothing happened. They didn't even get a common cold. And the minute we settle into a nice new home and are back to "normal" a thing like Valley Fever hits. Never would have guessed.

Girls enjoying the sunset in Patagonia, AZ.