Coccidiomycosis and other "Zebras" in Medicine; reconciling with Less is More

This is the first time I've had a peer-reviewed article published. Shortly after I wrote an email to the patient, the subject of this case report, to let him know, I was looking through my other emails and realized not only was it published, but that it had become the cover story for this of the British Columbia Medical Journal (BCMJ)!

Read the article here: A textbook case of coccidiomycosis (web version or a PDF version).

Ok, perhaps I shouldn't be so proud as it's not the Lancet or BMJ, but I think the BCMJ is pretty darn good and it was exciting for me to get to share this case in so doing, to make good on a promise to this patient to educate others about his diagnosis. It was also great to work with a friend, the very smart Dr Barlow!

I also liked the reflective exercise of thinking about how a "Less is More" kind of doctor could still diagnose exotic conditions.


The article is about an uncommon fungus (coccidiomycosis) that a patient I saw in on Vancouver Island had acquired. There's an expression in medicine:

"When you hear hoof-beats, think horses, not zebras."


One should never jump to the exotic diagnosis. However,  occasionally, people do have exotic diagnoses.

Even though I had to order some specialized tests to find out for sure what he had, this practice is still consistent with the "Less is More" philosophy. The idea is that in avoiding all the unnecessary stuff, we can use our time and resources wisely to order the RIGHT tests and treatments. It also helps immensely when patients are aware of their own health and can tell us their story clearly.

It all worked out because we had:

- A clear patient, advocating for himself, open-minded & contributing to my assessment and plan
- A doctor with time to hear the patient's story, medical knowledge appropriate for the situation
- Judicious ordering of tests (wrong test for most people, the RIGHT test for him)
- Confirmation of a suspicion gained from the history and reviewing the labs/xray that were already available

This was a highly satisfying case. I'm rarely clever, and rarely have a patient who is as good a historian as he. It's a wonderful illustration of a working acute care system, the benefits of being a patient who takes ownership for his health, and that some obscure knowledge is tucked away in my brain which will sometimes emerge when needed!