Health officials are warning the public as cases of valley fever are on the rise in California.
valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”, typically affects the lungs and can cause long-term respiratory symptoms, including cough, fever, chest pain, and tiredness or fatigue, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Valley fever is caused by inhaling a fungus found in dust from the outdoor air, CDPH explained. When heavy rain occurs for extended periods, the fungus can grow and spread into the air.
For some, the symptoms can be severe enough to interrupt daily life, including missing work, school or other activities.
“This is shown by research from the University of California, Berkeley and CDPH that during drought the fungus that causes valley fever may become less active,” officials said. “However, when the rains return, the fungus can grow, leading to increased infection. Valley fever cases in California have historically been lowest in years of drought and highest in years immediately following a drought. The wet winter season that California experienced could lead to to more cases of valley fever this summer and fall.”
Due to the historic rainfall in Southern California last winter, health officials are warning the public about the potential increase in infections while sharing ways to distinguish the disease from other ailments.
Valley fever shares many of the same symptoms with other respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, CDPH said.
Symptoms can last a month or more, and lab tests are needed to determine whether the problem is caused by valley fever or another illness.
If a COVID-19 test comes back negative, but respiratory symptoms last more than a week, officials advise talking to a doctor to ask if the symptoms could be caused by valley fever.
“California’s dry conditions, combined with recent heavy winter rains, may result in increased valley fever cases in the coming months,” said CDPH Director and Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragon. “People with a prolonged cough and fatigue should talk to a healthcare provider about Valley fever, especially if they have been outdoors in dusty air.”
Valley fever infections remain highest in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast regions, including Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare, Madera and Monterey counties.
“However, as the climate changes, valley fever has also increased in other areas of the state,” officials said, particularly in Southern California and in the northern San Joaquin (Central) Valley.
Those most likely to be infected are anyone who participates in outdoor activities that involve close contact with dirt or dust. Anyone who lives in areas typically prone to infections is also at risk.
Those at highest risk for severe symptoms if infected include adults 60 or older, pregnant women, people with diabetes, cancer or conditions that weaken the immune system, and people who are black or Filipino, according to the CDPH.
Tips to mitigate Valley Fever infections include:
-When it’s windy outside and the air is dusty, stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed.
– Before digging, moisten the soil and dirt to prevent the dust from being stirred up into the air.
– Consider wearing a properly fitted N95 mask if you must be in dusty air outdoors in these areas.
-CDPH encourages people who live in, work or visit areas where valley fever is common to learn about the signs and symptoms and ways to help reduce the risk of infection.
-Employers with employees working outdoors in these areas should educate workers about valley fever symptoms and take steps to limit dust exposure, such as watering soil before digging.
“About 20,000 cases of valley fever are reported each year in the United States, mostly from Arizona and California, and the number of cases is increasing,” officials said.
Infection rates typically peak in the summer and fall months. If valley fever is diagnosed, your doctor will determine the best course of treatment. For further information, visit CDPH’s Valley fever website.