Oct 30, 2012 1:31 PM by Carina Corral, KSBY News

Valley fever still on the rise, affecting Central Coast teenagers

When our series on valley fever aired in August, it was a shock to many of our viewers to learn the airborne disease is here and on the rise.

In fact, since our series aired 12 more cases have been reported in San Luis Obispo County, bringing the total to 119 this year alone.

Santa Barbara County's case number jumped by four, bringing the total to 21. Public health officials cannot explain the difference in numbers.

Since then, we have also learned the disease is spreading to our youth.

"Right now I'm beating the disease. The medication is getting rid of it," said Shane Spinharney, a junior at Templeton High School.

"I'm feeling a lot better. I can go to school full day. I can do P.E. I can do cheer," said Hailey McMaster, a sophomore at Templeton High School.

Both have valley fever that is caused by a microscopic spore that grows in the soil. People are infected when the soil becomes disturbed and the spore airborne.

Shane said he contracted it during last fall's dust storm near his home in Templeton.

It attacked his lungs and immune system, leaving him with zero energy to play sports like basketball and volleyball or even sit in class. "It affected me academically. I'd fall asleep in class I was just too tired to focus."

Hailey does not know exactly when she contracted it, only that it was in July 2011 after first being misdiagnosed with strep (streptococcus), pneumonia and mono (mononucleosis).

She was sidelined from cheering and class. "All last school year and I only went to school the last two periods of the day."

Both still complain of fatigue, but seem to be responding to medication, which is not always the case.

Valley fever can be fatal if the parasite spreads throughout the entire body, while others will get valley fever and never know it.

"I don't know too many cases around here. I know there's a lot in the valley but that's about it," said Hailey and she is right.

Valley fever is normally associated with Kern County, the Southwest and parts of Mexico, but San Luis Obispo County has now been added to the list of endemic areas.

There is not a whole lot to protect yourself against contracting the disease.

Medication can help fight off the disease, if it is detected early. It is also important to note valley fever is not contagious.

There is neither a cure, nor a vaccine for valley fever, but there are efforts underway for both.

Doctors at the Valley Fever Center for Excellence say they are close to a cure, but need additional funding. Click here to learn more.

There is also a Valley Fever patient advocacy group. Click here to go to its website.

Patients and researchers also urge residents to contact their local public health departments and politicians to urge more funding in valley fever research.

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