State Issues Valley Fever Warning


An infectious disease caused by the spore of a fungus that grows in certain types of soil in the Southwest United States has prompted California health officials to issue a statewide advisory warning that Valley Fever can be fatal.

“Valley Fever is an ongoing concern in California and other areas of the Southwest United States,” cautioned Dr. Karen Smith, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Health Officer. “It is important for people living in Valley Fever areas to take steps to avoid breathing in dusty air, such as staying indoors when it is windy.”

While the southern Central Valley region — Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties — has the highest rate of infections, Valley Fever affects hundreds of thousands of people statewide each year, according to health officials.

August is designated as Valley Fever Awareness Month in California. Also known as coccidioidomycosis, or cocci, Valley Fever is contracted by breathing in spores contained in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, such as digging in dirt during construction or gardening.

While most people exposed to the disease will not get ill, others will experience flu-like symptoms that can last a month or more. More severe cases can include pneumonia and infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin or other organs.

If you think you might have Valley Fever, visit your health care provider as soon as possible, advised health officials.

Those most at-risk for the severe disease include people 60 years or older, African Americans, Filipinos, pregnant women, and people with diabetes or conditions that weaken their immune system. People who live, work or travel in Valley Fever areas are also at a higher risk of getting infected, especially if they work or participate in activities where soil is disturbed, from  farming to construction.

According to health officials, the best way to reduce getting sick is to avoid breathing in dirt or dust in areas where Valley Fever is common. They suggest staying inside and keeping windows and doors closed when it is windy outside and the air is dusty.

While driving, keep car windows closed and use recirculating air conditioning, if available. If you must be outdoors in dusty air, consider wearing an N95 mask or respirator. Refrain from disturbing the soil, whenever possible.

It’s not yet clear what if any affect the drought has had on the spread of Valley Fever, however, some climate factors, including rainfall amount, may influence the growth of the Valley Fever fungus in the soil, the state health department said in its statement. They added, however, that climate conditions have not proven to be a consistent indicator of how many people will get infected each year.

In the past decade, the highest number (5,217) of cases was reported in 2011. Since then, the incidence has declined. There were 2,217 cases reported in 2014.

The CDPH website has information about Valley Fever and how to protect against infection, including ways to prevent work-related Valley Fever.

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