The state Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill Friday that would bring enhanced reporting guidelines and mandate public outreach for valley fever, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, announced Friday in a press release.

The bill, AB 1279, will now make its way to the state Senate floor. The bill passed in the Assembly with no opposition in March.

“We can save lives by making sure people are informed about valley fever,” Salas said in a statement. “Without a cure or vaccine, right now we need to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of this disease to prevent infections and ensure early and accurate diagnosis.”

Salas introduced legislation after USC’s Reporting on Health Collaborative, of which The Californian is a member, uncovered deep flaws in the way valley fever cases are reported among local, state and federal public health agencies.

AB 1279 would address those deficiencies by creating a coalition of experts from various county public health agencies to improve accurate and timely reporting while developing public outreach programs. 

Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused when fungal spores endemic to the southwestern United States get kicked into the air and inhaled. Most people don't develop symptoms, but others come down with a fever, cough, extreme fatigue and a rash, among other symptoms. In rare cases, the fungal spore can spread to the blood stream and cause cocci meningitis, leading to a lifetime of health issues, and potentially death. 

Valley fever cases have been spiking recently. Statewide, cases rose from about 3,000 in 2015 to more than 5,700 in 2016, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Kern County reported the most cases with 2,310 infections and six deaths that year.

Despite that, valley fever receives no state awareness funding. Zika virus, which has so far infected about 23 people statewide, received $27,000 in awareness funds in Kern County alone last year. 

Initially, Salas was attempting to bring $2 million in funding to public awareness, but that money was lost during the appropriations process.

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce