There is nothing more painful than seeing loved ones suffer from the effects of disease and not understanding the root cause.
Adding to this difficulty is a misdiagnosis and, after being diagnosed, discovering that no cure exists.
In Kern County and across the Central Valley countless families struggle with this reality and indeed many have lost loved ones to Valley Fever — or what it has rightfully been referred to, the silent epidemic.
Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is a fungal disease caused by fungal spores found in the soil in dusty, dry areas. It is spread through the air by virtually any activity that produces dust, with the most severe cases affecting the bones, skin, eyes, and even the brain.
Although the disease is endemic to Central Valley and Kern County in particular, the statewide impact of Valley Fever is evidenced by the rise in reported cases across numerous counties — 37 counties reported.
San Luis Obispo County has already seen five deaths caused by Valley Fever this year. Los Angeles County has also seen the number of infections increase. In 2016, a total of 714 cases were reported, compared with 521 in 2015, a 37 percent increase.
Last year was an especially difficult year in the battle against this illness. Statewide, a total of 5,372 cases were reported, a 71 percent increase over the previous year, with Kern County having the largest percentage increase. The illness is so common in our communities that it is nearly impossible to meet someone who hasn’t contracted Valley Fever or doesn't know someone who has. Because the symptoms are similar to the flu, Valley Fever can be misdiagnosed and the illness can go untreated.
In spite of these challenges, the residents of our communities have resolved to take matters into their own hands. In Kern County fashion, we have risen to the challenge with determination to eradicate Valley Fever. Through the work of numerous nonprofits and the stories of countless survivors, awareness and understanding of the illness has grown exponentially. National attention was garnered with a Valley Fever symposium that brought to Kern County the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Even nonprofits and entities located in Kern County have partnered with officials in Arizona to test a promising vaccine.
Though finding a cure remains elusive, the resilience of Kern residents has undoubtedly helped to save lives and inspire a new generation to continue the work of making Valley Fever a relic of the past.
As legislators, we have a duty to advocate for the well-being of our communities, but also be reminded of a greater good outside of our districts. Our state should not ignore the giant leaps our county has made to educate, raise awareness for and eradicate Valley Fever.
Together we have brought greater awareness of Valley Fever by supporting funding for research, and advocating for outreach and education programs to increase public awareness by state health officials. Our efforts are aimed at building partnerships between the state and local officials to combat Valley Fever.
As the legislature prepares to adjourn for the year, we will continue to shine a light on Valley Fever in these final days of the legislative session and into the future working with partners on all levels. Valley Fever has affected our region, our families, and our friends. It has forced many to retire early, and strained our healthcare resources. Together, we will continue to raise awareness and fight for the resources necessary to combat Valley Fever and we ask everyone to join our efforts.
Assemblyman Vince Fong represents the 34th District; Assemblyman Rudy Salas represents the 32nd District; and state Sen. Jean Fuller represents the 16th state senate district.