MERCED — The walk from Tom Price's living room to his kitchen was only a few feet. But it felt like miles.
The 33-year-old from Merced was hit with valley fever in 2006. He had trouble breathing, and he was so fatigued for a month that the simplest tasks felt arduous.
"It was scary," he said. "It was the first time I had ever been very sick. Not being able to breathe was the worst."
Price remembers developing a high fever and the sweats. He went to his regular doctor, who thought he had the flu.
Late that night, his fever climbed to 104, he developed red bumps on his face and neck that later spread. When he began to have difficulty breathing, he went to the emergency room at Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia. There, doctors treated him as if he had pneumonia and told Price that the bumps were bug bites.
He was sent home, but the symptoms persisted.
"I went back to my normal doctor and he had a hunch at that point that I had valley fever," he said, adding that his doctor's wife had suffered from the disease.
His doctor sent him back to Kaweah Delta, where he was admitted. Blood samples were sent to UC Davis, which confirmed he had valley fever. He spent seven days in the hospital, where doctors treated him for the fungal disease.
Price could barely eat, and he had to undergo breathing treatments every hour with an inhaler.
"It was brutal," he recalled.
And things didn't get much better after he was discharged.
"Even when I got out, I was still barely able to get up," he said. "It was definitely the most negative time that I've gone through in my life."
He remembers having to walk very slowly and having to sit down and breathe before he could continue to walk.
Price said that with the number of cases increasing, it will be likely that people will know someone with valley fever. His sister, Rhonda Nelson, 51, was stricken with valley fever in 2011.
It will take people like him and his sister to share their stories to create more public awareness, Price said.
"Not only for our medical community to be aware of it, but to know how to recognize the symptoms and be able to diagnose it," he said.
JUST ONE BREATH
Part 3 of an occasional series about valley fever.
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ABOUT THE SERIES
Why are people still dying from valley fever and tens of thousands getting sick? Misdiagnosis. A lack of public awareness. And a long history of inaction by government agencies. In this series, we will explore the startling rise of cases, the science of studying the disease, the high costs to patients and taxpayers, the weak federal and private interest in funding treatments and vaccines, and the public health response.