Valley Fever cases double in Tulare County and are at their highest levels ever statewide
TULARE COUNTY – Valley Fever is not only on the rise in Tulare County and across the state, more people are contracting the disease than ever before.
On Aug. 16, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported that Valley Fever numbers in Tulare County increased to 275 confirmed cases in 2017, double the average of 123 cases for 2011–2015 and a 14.5% increase over the 240 confirmed cases in 2016.
Statewide CDPH reported 7,466 new cases of Valley Fever, making 2017 the highest annual incidence reported in California since coccidioidomycosis, the scientific name for the disease, became individually reportable in 1995. It was also the second consecutive record year for reported Valley Fever cases.
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 unknown if or how the relatively dry 2017-2018 winter in California will impact the number of Valley Fever cases this year.
“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,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “If individuals develop flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more, they should ask their health care provider about Valley Fever.”
Consistent with previous years, the highest coccidioidomycosis incidence in 2017 were reported in counties in the Central Valley and central coast regions, including Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare, Madera, and Monterey counties. Nearly 64% of the 2017 case-patients resided in one of these counties, with 37% residing in Kern County.
Valley Fever is a fungal infection caused by breathing the coccidioides organism, a fungus, into the lungs, where the spores reproduce. The fungi spores are commonly found in soil and grow as a mold with long filaments that break off into airborne spores. The spores can be stirred into the air by anything that disrupts the dry soil, such as gardening, farming, construction, and the wind.
Symptoms of Valley Fever include fever, chest pain and coughing that mimics pneumonia, fatigue, chills, night sweats, joint aches, and a red spotty rash, mostly on the lower legs. If the initial infection does not completely resolve, it can progress to a chronic form of pneumonia that includes weight loss, cough with chest pain, nodules in the lungs, and blood-tinged sputum. In a severe infection, the disease can spread to other parts of the body.
If you have the symptoms of Valley Fever, contact your primary care physician right away or visit one of Tulare County’s local clinics to ask about your symptoms. They may order a blood test, a chest x-ray, or other tests to help diagnose Valley Fever.
Mild cases of Valley Fever can go unnoticed and may resolve on their own. For severe cases, medications are needed to treat the underlying infection.
Individuals over 60 years of age, those with weakened immune systems, women who are pregnant, and African American, Filipino, Native American, or Hispanic individuals are at greater risk. 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. Men are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with Valley Fever and people between the ages of 20-59 have the highest incidence of the disease.
August is Valley Fever Awareness Month because cases often increase in August and throughout the autumn months due to dry weather conditions and blowing dust.
You can get more information about Valley Fever by visiting the California Department of Public Health’s Valley Fever web site (www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Coccidioidomycosis.aspx) and the CDC’s Valley Fever web site (www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/coccidioidomycosis/index.html).
To reduce your risk of getting Valley Fever, stay inside when it is windy outside and the air is dusty, especially during dust storms. In dusty conditions, use the “recirculating” option for your vehicle air conditioning and keep windows closed. If you must be outside in dusty air, wear an N95 mask or respirator, if your doctor says it is safe for you to do so. N95 masks are available at drug and hardware stores—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instruction video can assist with proper fitting (www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d_RaKdqeck&feature=player_embeddedd). Employers should train workers about Valley Fever symptoms and take steps to limit workers’ exposure to dust, such as watering down the soil before digging.
Other options that can reduce your risk include wetting down soil before gardening or other soil-disturbing activities to reduce dust and covering open dirt areas around your home with grass, plants, or other ground cover. Wash clothing immediately after working or playing in dusty soil. Access to air monitoring data is available at www.valleyair.org/Programs/RAAN/raan_monitoring_system.htm.