August is Valley Fever Awareness month, and a press release published Friday morning by the California Department of Public Health confirmed yet another rise in Valley Fever cases in Tulare County for 2017.

There were 275 confirmed cases of Valley Fever in Tulare County in 2017, up 14.6% from 2016 and a 125% increase from the 2011-2015 years average.

Cases increase most often during the month of August and throughout the autumn months. Contracting Valley Fever increase in these months due to the dry weather and dust that is blowing around.

Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency (TCHHSA) says that the causes of the increase of Valley Fever  in 2017 are not well understood, but contributing factors may include climatic and environmental factors favorable to the viruses, rapid increase and airborne release, increase among particular areas of susceptible residents, and increase in disease recognition, testing, and reporting.

Valley Fever is a fungal infection that can be contracted through the air. There is currently no vaccine for the virus and once the spores are inhaled, they reproduces quickly in the lungs. 

The fungi spores are commonly found in soil and grow as a mold with long filaments that break off into airborne spores. The spores can be stirred into the air by anything that disrupts the dry soil, such as gardening, farming, construction, and the wind.

Dr. Sharon Minnick, epidemiologist for TCHHSA, gives many examples of how the virus can prosper and spread. 

“An example may be a wet spring following several years of drought, increasing non-immune populations into high risk areas, dust generating activities like new construction, and increasing electronic laboratory reports,” said Minnick.

Symptoms of Valley Fever include fever, chest pain and coughing that mimics pneumonia, fatigue, chills, night sweats, joint aches, and a red spotty rash, mostly on the lower legs. In a severe infection, the disease can spread to other parts of the body.

“It is rare, but some cases of Valley Fever do result in fatalities,” Minnick reported. “These patients may have multiple underlying medical conditions, so it is not always clear how much of a role the Valley Fever infection played.”

To reduce your risk of getting Valley Fever, stay inside when it is windy outside and the air is dusty, especially during dust storms. Other options include wetting down soil before gardening or other soil-disturbing activities to reduce dust and covering open dirt areas around your home with grass, plants, or other ground cover. Wash clothing immediately after working or playing in dusty soil.

“TCHHSA conducts outreach and education about how one contracts Valley Fever and the symptoms of Valley Fever” advised Minnick. “We strongly encourage community members to advocate for themselves with their physician by knowing their symptoms.”

For more information visit the California Department of Public Health’s Valley Fever web site at www.cdph.ca.gov.

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