Health officials with California Department of Public Health, or CDPH, say they are investigating the cause of a spike in the number of valley fever cases, especially in the state’s Central Valley and Central Coast areas.
There are no official totals for 2017 yet but in 2016 the agency confirmed 5372 cases. That is around what they saw in 2011, which was the worst year since statewide valley fever tracking began back in 1995.
Valley fever is plainspeak for a fungal infection known as coccidioidomycosis. It is soil-borne and infects humans when spores carried in dust or wind-swept soil reach the lungs.
“People who live in or travel to areas where Valley Fever is common should take steps to avoid breathing in dusty air,” said Dr. Karen Smith in the agency’s press release. Smith is CDPH Director and State Health Officer. “If they develop flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more, they should ask their doctor about Valley Fever.”
That may be especially true of older folks, African-Americans, pregnant women, people of Filipino descent or anyone with a compromised immune system. And, of course, anyone who works in a job where soil is disturbed should also exercise caution.
To protect yourself, say experts, you should try to avoid breathing in dust and dirt by wearing a well-fitting dust mask, like an N95 respirator, if you must work outside in areas where valley fever is known. And even if you don’t have to work out in the weather, doctors say it is a good idea to keep your car windows closed and your automobile’s air conditioner on “circulate” when you are driving. At home, keep your doors and windows shut anytime it is windy or the air is dusty.
Most cases of valley fever are symptom-free but even those who are sickened recover after a bout of flu-like symptoms. But some people will develop complications that can become quite serious and can include infections of the joints and brain.