State on track to break 2016 record for val­ley fever cases

Health of­fi­cials can’t ex­plain surge of lung in­fec­tions but sug­gest a link to droughts.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Soumya Kar­la­mangla soumya.kar­la­mangla@la­times.com Twit­ter: @skar­la­mangla

This year is shap­ing up to be the worst on record in Cal­i­for­nia for peo­ple in­fected with val­ley fever, a lung in­fec­tion caused by a fun­gus found in soil.

State health of­fi­cials an­nounced ear­lier that 2016 broke the record for the most val­ley fever cases re­ported since the state started keep­ing count in 1995. Now, 2017 is on pace to have even more in­fec­tions.

From Jan­uary through Oc­to­ber, 5,121 cases were re­ported to the state health de­part­ment, com­pared with 3,827 cases dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2016.

Peo­ple con­tract val­ley fever by breath­ing in dust that con­tains a fun­gus called Coc­cid­ioides, which is com­mon in semi­arid re­gions of the coun­try. So al­though any­one can get val­ley fever, peo­ple who work in fields or con­struc­tion sites where soil gets kicked up are par­tic­u­larly at risk.

Health of­fi­cials said Tues­day that they didn’t know why cases were in­creas­ing. Ex­perts have said the rise in val­ley fever — which has in­creased na­tion­wide in re­cent years — could be linked to climate change or drought, be­cause hot­ter and drier weather leads to more dust in the air.

“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,” state health de­part­ment Di­rec­tor Dr. Karen Smith said in a state­ment.

The Cal­i­for­nia counties with the high­est rates of in­fec­tion in­clude San Luis Obispo, Merced, Fresno, Kern, Madera and Tu­lare. There have been fa­tal out­breaks of val­ley fever at pris­ons in the Cen­tral Val­ley in re­cent years.

Most peo­ple who con­tract val­ley fever don’t show symp­toms, but those who do might ex­pe­ri­ence fever, cough, chest pain, headaches and weight loss. The dis­ease of­ten is mis­di­ag­nosed be­cause it re­sem­bles so many other ill­nesses, ex­perts say. Health of­fi­cials rec­om­mend that if peo­ple have had a cough, fever or painful breath­ing for more than two weeks, they should ask their doc­tor about val­ley fever.

The ill­ness can’t be passed from per­son to per­son. Peo­ple with the high­est risk of be­ing in­fected are adults 60 and older, preg­nant women, peo­ple with weak­ened im­mune sys­tems, in­clud­ing di­a­bet­ics, and African Amer­i­cans and Filipinos, health of­fi­cials say.

Na­tion­wide, val­ley fever is most com­mon in Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, Ne­vada, New Mex­ico and Utah, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

MORE than 5,000 val­ley fever cases were re­ported in Cal­i­for­nia through Oc­to­ber, com­pared with 3,827 a year ear­lier. The fun­gus re­spon­si­ble can be present in dust.

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