Students at Foothill High School heard a special presentation on valley fever by Kern Medical on Monday morning.

Dr. Augustine Munoz, a valley fever specialist with the hospital, explained the facts and figures behind the fungal infection to about 100 biology students in the school cafeteria.

The doctor told the students they needed to grow up and become scientists. The infection, which has no cure, will need the work of many more doctors and biologists before it can be fully understood.

“You happen to be in the capital city for valley fever,” he told the students.

Sharktooth Hill, an excavation site along the Kern River northeast of Bakersfield, has more valley fever spores than anywhere else in the world, he added.

Last year, valley fever killed nine people in Kern County, infecting 2,929, according to Kern Public Health.

Complicating the statistics is the fact that only one in four people who contract the disease get diagnosed, Munoz said. And 40 percent of those who are diagnosed require medical treatment.

Although no cure exists for valley fever, treatments are available.

The disease infects people through fungal spores that live in the soil.

“Anything that can breathe can get infected with valley fever,” Munoz said. “Most people do okay with it. Their body takes care of it.”

He said soil that tends to be infected is in areas with sparse vegetation, along dry streams. The soil can have animal burrows or debris piles made by rodents.

Old Indian campsites tend to be breeding grounds for valley fever.

Some of the students in the crowd had been studying valley fever since the beginning of the year.

Biology teacher Raelyn Ruffus organized the event. Her husband was diagnosed with valley fever last year, which helped inspire her lesson topics throughout the school year.

Her students have taken a liking to learning about valley fever.

“I try and trick my students into learning,” she said. “If I can hook them with a topic that they are just bonkers about, that they can get really into, than they will do the learning on the side.”

One of the biology students on hand enjoyed taking a break from class to learn about valley fever.

“At first I was thinking I might not go to (the presentation), but I’m happy I did come to it because I learned some pretty cool things,” said sophomore Brayden Davis.

Assemblyman Vince Fong and 3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard were on hand Monday to speak with the students.

This year, the governor signed two bills co-authored by Fong that strengthened valley fever research.

“We want to get the information out to everybody,” Fong said. “When it comes to getting the information out, going to the schools is extremely important. This is a demographic that a lot of times we don’t focus on, but their ability to get information out through social media and through their peers is extremely important.”

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.

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