Valley fever is on the rise in West Farm Region as drier climate and warm weather is increasing the dust carrying the spore that is spreading it. This disease is rife in the arid region of the U. S., Central and South America as well as Mexico. It can be contracted by breathing in the fungus-laced spores from the dust. California and federal public officials say that, valley fever is often a misdiagnosed disease that is infecting many people in the U.S.
It has hit the agricultural heartland, and its incidence has dramatically increased in 2010 and 2011. Deputy Director of the Center for Infectious Disease at the California Department of Health, Dr. Gil Chavez said that spores could become airborne in endemic areas when the soil is dry, and it is windy. Heightened concerns about the longstanding valley fever rose last week when a federal official relocated more than 3,000 inmates from two San Joaquin Valley prison where dozens have died of this disease in 2006. State officials are now investigating an outbreak where 28 workers were sick at the two solar plants in San Luis Obispo County in February.
Experts say that people working in construction or dusty fields as well as those with weak immune systems and certain ethnic group are at risk. Visitors and newcomers in the region may be more susceptible to the disease.
According to Disease Control and Prevention, 850 percent of valley fever cases in the U.S. have risen from 1998 – 2011. More than 20,400 cases were reported mostly in California and Arizona in 2011. About 265 people died between 2001 -2008. In California alone, valley fever cases climbed from 700 in 1998 to 5,500 cases in 2011 with the sharpest rise in Kern, Kings, and Fresno counties.
CDC says that about 150,000 valley fever infections go undiagnosed each year because people and doctors are vaguely aware of the disease other than the fact that is difficult to detect. In about half the infections, it is asymptomatic, but in some cases it caused mild to severe flu-like symptoms. In a small percentage of the case, the infection can spread from the lungs to the brain, skin, bones, eyes, which lead to blindness, lung failure, even death.
California Public Health officials are working to train and educate the people and the doctors about the illness. The state has trained country health departments about the fungus causing the valley fever. The information is already included in the California Medical Board newsletter sent to licensed physicians. The CDPH social media and website are now featuring data and information about the disease which includes advice to limit outdoor activities on windy and dry days.
While the prison officials prepare to relocate the inmates, patients and doctors believe that funding research work should be done to work on a cure. After all, if the state is concerned about the prisoners, they should also worry about those who work and live in the valley.