The state Assembly unanimously approved a bill that would bolster reporting requirements for valley fever, the insidious respiratory disease endemic to Kern County that has historically been underreported throughout the nation.
The bill, AB 1279, authored by Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, would create a workgroup of local health officers from counties impacted the most by valley fever to find ways to streamline the way the disease is reported to the state public health department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The approval marks a half-way mark for legislative approval of the bill, which next heads to the state Senate. It would also have to be signed by the governor.
The bill would also require the California Department of Public Health to conduct educational outreach to bring awareness to families living in areas where valley fever is endemic, something local agencies currently undertake on shoestring budgets with no special funding.
“We can save lives by streamlining the detection, treatment and reporting of valley fever infections,” Salas said. “AB 1279 shines a light on an important issue that affects thousands of California families each year in counties across the state.”
The disease is brought on by the Coccidioides fungus that grows in the southwestern United States. When it’s disturbed in the soil and swept into the air, spores can be breathed in. Some develop no symptoms at all while others are stricken with extreme fatigue and flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, it can spread through the body and, in some cases, lead to death.
In Kern County, cases reached epidemic proportions last year, infecting more than 1,900 and killing six. The disease has killed five so far in 2017 in San Luis Obispo County. The CDPH reported statewide that valley fever increased from 3,000 cases in 2015 to more than 5,300 in 2016.
Additionally, the Assembly Budget Committee has included $6 million in the Assembly budget proposal to be spent over the next three years to fund the workgroup and for educational outreach. If Gov. Jerry Brown approves it in the budget, it will be the first time in years valley fever is allocated specific funding.
The bill's introduction comes in response to the “Just One Breath” series, a reporting project undertaken by USC’s Reporting on Health Collaborative, of which The Californian is a member. The collaborative first reported the inconsistencies in reporting among local, state and federal agencies when it comes to tracking valley fever last year.
Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce