Thousands of people diagnosed with deadly fungal disease Valley Fever in California as cases soar

Wednesday, February 6, 2019
By Paul Martin

Valley Fever cases increased eight percent from 2017 and 42 percent from 2016
Kern County had the highest number of cases, documenting more than 3,000
The disease is caused by breathing in fungal spores that are found in soil
Symptoms generally disappear after a few weeks but can spread to the brain and skin, causing abscesses and occasionally death

6 February 2019

A life-threatening fungal illness is rapidly spreading throughout central California, health officials say.

The number of Valley Fever cases rose eight percent in 2018 from the previous year – up to more than 8,100 from more than 7,500, according to a report released by the California Department of Public Health last week.

The increase from 2016, when cases totaled around 5,700, was even more shocking – an sharp spike of 42 percent.

Kern County, which is about 133 miles from Los Angeles, was hit the hardest by far, documenting a little more than 3.000 cases – up 23 percent from 2017 and 48 percent from 2016.

Nine deaths were recorded in the county in 2017, which is the highest number in more than a decade, reported SFGATE.

Counties that also saw a high number of cases include Los Angeles (1,036), Fresno (632), Tulare (425), and San Luis Obispo (353).

‘We’ve seen a lot more cases recently,’ Michelle Rivera, a health education specialist for Fresno County, told SFGATE. ‘Not all providers are testing for it so there might be more cases out there.’

Health officials suspect a few reasons for the rise in cases including rainfall affecting the way the fungus grows and spreads, more people moving to high-risk areas, and an increased level of detecting and diagnosing the illness.

Valley Fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by a fungus found in soil.

The fungus, called Coccidioides, flourishes in areas that are hot and dry, making California’s climate the perfect area for outbreaks.

Valley Fever is contracted by breathing in spores in the air and cannot be spread from person to person.

Symptoms appear one to three weeks later and include a rash, fatigue, headache, fever, shortness of breath, coughing and muscle or joint pain.

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