California Department of Public Health officials are warning about an increase in reported case of coccidioidomycosis, more commonly known as Valley Fever. The CDPH reported the highest annual number of new Valley Fever cases on record in California occurred in 2017.
CDPH officials noted that 7,466 new cases of Valley Fever were reported in 2017, which is the high number of cases reported since 1995. 2017 was also the second consecutive record year for reported Valley Fever cases. Symptoms of the disease are flu-like and can include cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more.
It is unclear why there has been such a large increase in reported Valley Fever cases in California since 2014. Possible contributing factors include heavy rainfall after years of drought as well as other climatic and environmental factors, increased number of susceptible people in areas where the fungus is present, and increased awareness, testing, and diagnosis by health care providers. It is not clear if the recent drought in California contributed to the increase at all.
Dr. Duc Vugia said that consistent with previous years, the greatest number of Valley Fever cases during 2017 were reported by counties in the Central Valley and central coast regions, including Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare, Madera, and Monterey counties.
The disease is spread in fungal spores which most commonly grow in the soil. The fungus is most common in Arizona and California, according to Dr. Vugia. The fungal spores can be present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, such as happens with farming or construction projects.
The CDPH cautions that with "the continued increase in Valley Fever, people living and working in the Central Valley and central coasts regions should take steps to avoid breathing in dusty air."
Dr. Vugia said that most infected people will not show signs of illness. Those who do become ill with Valley Fever usually recover fully, though some may develop more severe complications which include pneumonia, or infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin, or other organs. There is currently no vaccine, but anti-fungal medications are used to treat the disease.
While anyone can get Valley Fever, those most at-risk for 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 higher risk of getting infected, especially if they work outdoors or participate in activities where soil is disturbed.
You can reduce your chances of getting Valley Fever by avoiding breathing dust in areas where Valley Fever is common. Officials suggest that if you live in or visit those areas, when it is windy outside and the air is dusty, stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. While driving, keep car windows closed and use recirculating air conditioning, if available. If you have to be outdoors, you should consider wearing a mask which is capable of filtering out dust particles. The CDPH recommends N95 respirator masks, which are readily available in many stores.
For additional information on Valley Fever, you may click to the CDPH website.