The disease is caused by a fungus called coccidioides, which lives in the soil. When the soil is disrupted by weather, farmwork or construction, the fungus becomes airborne and anyone can breathe it in. Farmers and construction workers are at heightened risk.
The fungus causes an infection that can last weeks or months. It isn’t usually fatal, but symptoms include coughing, aches, fever and fatigue.
Scientists believe the fungus remained dormant during California’s drought years and became active again when the rain returned
“Everybody has kind of a theory,” said Rob Purdie, Vice President of the Valley Fever Americas Foundation in Bakersfield. “What we do know is there are trends between drought, drought relief, and valley fever. As a fungus, it’s very fascinating and very efficient.”
Purdie said one of the biggest problems is that many doctors don’t know how to diagnose Valley Fever or confuse it with the flu.
A package of new bills from Assemblymember Rudy Salas — whose district stretches from south of Fresno down to Bakersfield — would change the way the state diagnoses and tracks Valley Fever, improve physician training and add safety requirements for at-risk construction workers
At the Merced County Department of Public Health, director Dr. David Canton said staff is trying to raise the alarm about Valley Fever. They distribute flyers in Spanish and English and try to make sure doctors are informed.
“We may be underreporting because a lot of the cases are mild, and maybe 60 percent have no symptoms or think they have the flu,” he said. “The people who do get care can get pretty sick, and those are the ones that really draw the attention.”
More resources on Valley Fever are available at cdph.ca.gov