Senators renew fervor to fight valley fever
State Senators Jean Fuller and Andy Vidak co-author resolution to raise awareness about rise in Valley Fever cases in Kings and Tulare counties
SACRAMENTO – Valley Fever is a hidden killer. It’s caused by microscopic spores are buried in the dirt that once unearthed are spread by the wind. Its symptoms mimic pneumonia and it often goes undiagnosed until it becomes a serious threat to the patient’s health. And many of the doctors in the Valley don’t have the experience to diagnose it since it only affects a few areas in California and Arizona.
But at least two Valley senators are trying to do their part to raise awareness of the disease in the hopes of cutting down on the number of cases. Just last week, Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) presented Senate Concurrent Resolution 72 which declares August as Valley Fever Awareness Month. In addition to Senator Fuller — who represents Exeter and Visalia among other cities in Kern, Tulare and San Bernardino Counties — SCR 72 is authored by Senators Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) and Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley).
Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) is a progressive respiratory disease caused by inhaling airborne fungi.
This fungal spore grows in the arid climate of the southwest United States. In California this includes the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, Central Coast, desert regions, and portions of southern California. Valley Fever is a fungal infection caused by breathing the coccidioides organism, a fungus, into the lungs. 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 soil such as gardening, farming, construction, and the wind. Once inside the lungs, the spores reproduce.
According to California Department of Public Health data, Tulare County had an average of 123 cases annually for 2011-2015, and 212 confirmed cases in 2016. Tulare County Public Health strongly encourages taking safety measures when weather conditions mean dry soil and blowing dust. And while August is over, September and October represent the highest number of cases historically in Tulare County. Last year there were 64 cases in September and 96 in October, representing three quarters of all cases for 2016.
“The number of Valley Fever cases is growing and there is no cure, which is why making more people aware of the symptoms of this disease is so important,” said Sen. Fuller.
Symptoms of Valley Fever include fever, chest pain and coughing that mimics pneumonia, fatigue, chills, night sweats, joint aches, and 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. The infection, in the most serious form of the disease, can also spread beyond the lungs to the skin, bones, liver, brain, heart, and membranes that protect the spinal cord.
Mild cases of Valley Fever can go unnoticed and may resolve on their own. However, anti-fungal medications are needed to treat the underlying infection in more severe cases. Seek medical care if you have symptoms of Valley Fever, especially symptoms that are not improving. 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.
As part of her presentation, Senator Fuller introduced several constituents of the 16th Senate District who have survived, or had family members diagnosed with, Valley Fever. They are all active members of Bakersfield’s Valley Fever Americas Foundation which has for over 20 years raised funds for vaccine research.
“These individuals represent just a few of the many people, including myself, that have seen the pain and witnessed the struggle that Valley Fever patients experience. It is my hope that a cure is discovered and these stories become a thing of the past,” concluded Fuller.
Fuller has been involved in Valley Fever research as her home of Bakersfield is at the epicenter of regional disease. In 2016, Kern County had 2,310 confirmed cases of Valley Fever and 6 deaths, according to the Kern County Public Health Services Department . 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.
There are ways to reduce the risk of getting Valley Fever such as staying inside when it is windy outside and the air is dusty, especially during dust storms. In dusty conditions, use the “recirculating” option for your air conditioning and keep windows closed. If you must be outside in dusty air, consider wearing an N95 mask or respirator. 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 on YouTube.com.
Other options include wetting down soil before gardening or other soil-disturbing activities to reduce dust and cover open dirt areas around your home with grass, plants, or other ground cover. After working or playing in dusty dirt, don’t shake out clothing and be careful not to breathe in the dust; wash clothing immediately.
For more information about Valley Fever, visit www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Coccidioidomycosis.aspx and www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/coccidioidomycosis/index.html.