Got a cough? It might not be the flu, and you should get it checked out

Valley fever spores magnified under a microscope.
Valley fever spores magnified under a microscope. Special to Vida en el Valle

You’ve had a bad cough and now you’re wondering: Is it the flu or something else?

While it’s the time of year for a nagging cough, fever, tiredness and muscle aches caused by influenza viruses, California health officials say Valley fever can share the same symptoms.

Valley fever cases typically are most common in summer and late fall, and the number can vary from year to year. There was a significant increase in new Valley fever cases reported in the state through Oct. 31, compared to the same period last year. According to the California Department of Public Health, from Jan. 1-Oct. 31, there were 5,121 provisional cases of Valley fever, an increase of 1,294 over the 3,827 cases reported in 2016.

Provisional cases include suspected cases as well as those that have been confirmed. State health officials said they released the provisional data because it provides an early indication of potential risk of Valley fever in the current season.

“With an increase in reported Valley Fever cases, it is important that people living, working, and traveling in California are aware of its symptoms, especially in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast, where it is most common,” said Dr. Karen Smith, state health officer. “In these areas, anyone who develops flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more, should ask their health care provider about Valley fever.”

Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is caused by the spore of a fungus that grows in soil in parts of California, Arizona, and other areas of the southwestern United States. People get infected by breathing in spores present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, such as digging during construction.

Most people who get Valley fever fully recover and usually are protected from getting the disease again. But Valley fever can infect the brain, joints, bone, skin and other organs, and it can be fatal.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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