California health officials are warning people about Valley fever and that breathing dusty air can put them at risk for the potentially fatal disease.
August is designated as Valley Fever Awareness Month in California, but the disease occurs year round, said Dr. Duc Vugia, chief of the state’s infectious diseases branch. Last year, there were 2,217 cases reported in California. Most of the cases were in the southern Central Valley region: Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera and Merced counties. Kern County, for example, had 890 cases last year. Fresno County had 153.
Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungal spore that is found in soils in the Southwest United States, and in some areas of Central and South America. People get infected by breathing in spores contained in dust that gets into the air when it’s windy or when the soil is disturbed during activities such as digging, gardening and construction.
People who live, work or travel in Valley Fever areas are at a higher risk of getting infected, especially if they work or participate in activities where soil is disturbed.
“It’s better to prevent than to have to treat Valley fever,” Vugia said. The best way to reduce the risk of Valley fever is to avoid breathing dust, he said. “If you live, work or travel through areas where Valley fever is common, there are steps you can take to prevent being infected.”
▪ Avoid breathing in dusty air.
▪ Minimize soil disturbance.
▪ Stay indoors on dusty days.
▪ Roll up windows in cars and use recirculating air conditioning when driving through dusty areas.
▪ If outdoors in dusty areas, consider wearing an N95 mask or respirator.
In many cases, Valley fever does not make people ill, but some get flu-like symptoms that can last a month or more. Most who have flu symptoms recover fully, but others can develop severe disease, including pneumonia and infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin and other organs. Anyone who thinks they might have Valley fever should see a doctor. A blood test can determine the disease, and doctors should be suspicious of Valley fever in patients who live in the Valley or have traveled through the area who have a cough that doesn’t go away after more than several weeks, Vuiga said.
While anyone can get Valley Fever, those most at-risk for severe disease include people 60 years or older, blacks, Filipinos, pregnant women and people with diabetes or conditions that weaken their immune system, health officials said.