2 valley fever deaths so far in 2017 as cases rise in SLO County - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

2 valley fever deaths so far in 2017 as cases rise in SLO County

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Valley fever is on the rise in San Luis Obispo County with two deaths this year alone. 

In 2016, there were at least 220 cases and five deaths. 

So far this year, there have been 26 cases. 

Robert Vargas, 27, of San Luis Obispo lost his battle with valley fever at the end of January. 

"Just one of the best. Most positive attitude, most friendly, loving person that you would know," said Matthew Pearce, Vargas' former employer at Old San Luis BBQ Co.

Vargas was one of the first employees hired at the restaurant.

"He was one of the hardest workers that we've ever had employed for us," continued Pearce. 

He started out as a cashier and worked his way up to assistant manager over a two-and-a-half year period. 

Pearce says learning of Vargas' diagnosis with valley fever was a surprise. 

"I knew that it existed but I never thought it was a serious illness," he said. 

According to County Public Health, 60 percent of all cases of valley fever are asymptomatic, meaning people may not even know they have it. 

"Some cases have a very mild illness, but then you can also get severe cases that lead to death," said San Luis Obispo County Epidemiologist Ann McDowell. 

Valley fever is a flu-like illness. Symptoms include fever and heavy coughing that could last weeks. It's diagnosed through blood tests. 

There is no vaccine for valley fever. The best way to prevent it is to limit your exposure to blowing dirt and dust. 

In Santa Barbara County, there were 53 cases last year and three cases so far this year.

Old San Luis BBQ Co. is hosting a fundraiser from 11:00 a.m. Saturday, February 4 to 2:00 a.m. Sunday, February 5 to help the Vargas family with funeral and medical expenses. Twenty percent of sales will be donated to the family. 

"(Robert) was just such a positive influence on everyone around him, such a happy person. He's really going to be missed by a lot of people," concluded Pearce. 


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