Kern County Public Health Services officials are warning residents to be wary of valley fever as they’ve noticed an uptick in the number of reported cases this month.
Health officials have seen more lab requests to test blood for coccidioidomycosis, or valley fever, noticed an increase in tests returning positive, and suspect that the recent increase in the number of people going to emergency rooms could be explained by cocci infections, Kern Public Health Officer Claudia Jonah said last week.
Health officials advised residents to stay indoors during windy conditions, turn on recirculated air conditioning while driving and avoid breathing in dust.
“We’re starting to see increasing numbers of reports of illness that are being identified as cocci or valley fever,” Jonah said. “We want to make sure that we make the public aware that this is a time of year we’re seeing a little more activity, and to make sure that if they get a respiratory illness that they think cocci or valley fever (could be the cause).”
That increase is typical for this time of year and doesn’t represent a looming epidemic, Jonah said.
“As we get into the late summer and into the fall, we have these windy conditions and there’s the challenge with the increased chance for infections with cocci,” Jonah said.
There have been 890 confirmed cases of cocci reported to the state public health data system this year through June, according to county health officials. There were 1,174 cases in all of 2015 and 1,023 in 2014, according to numbers they provided.
There was a spike of 2,726 cases in 2011.
Valley fever is contracted by breathing in fungal spores embedded in dry dirt throughout the San Joaquin Valley, Arizona and other parts of the southwest that get swept up in the wind.
If inhaled, those spores could become lodged in the lungs and an immunity could be developed — the case for most. But in some cases, the spores take root and disseminate throughout the body’s organs, leading to a lifetime of health problems and even death.
The most severe cases are the ones that are not detected quickly, Jonah added, making awareness of valley fever critically important in endemic regions like Kern County.
Symptoms include fever, cough, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, weight loss, night sweats and joint pain. Jonah recommends that if someone is exhibiting flu-like symptoms that don’t subside with antibiotics, that person should insist on being tested for valley fever.