San Luis Obispo County Public Health Services says one person in the county has recently died from valley fever. His death marks the fifth valley fever death so far this year in SLO County.
Health officials say 47 cases of valley fever were reported in the first four months of the year and 11 additional cases are under investigation.
Cases of valley fever reported to the public health department from January 1 to April 30 have risen in recent years:
2014: 14 cases
2015: 18 cases
2016: 49 cases
2017: 47 cases (plus 11 additional cases under investigation)
Health officials say valley fever is expected to spike this year.
The fungus that causes valley fever lives naturally in the soil in SLO County, health officials say. When this soil is disturbed - by wind, construction, or other causes - people can breathe in the spores of this fungus and develop valley fever, according to the County of San Luis Obispo Health Agency.
The rainfall we've experienced this year may have contributed to the problem. Now that the soil is drying and the wind is picking up, experts say the spores are more likely to become airborne. Here are some things doctors say you can do to protect yourself:
Limit your exposure to dust and airborne dirt
Try to avoid areas with a lot of dust - especially on windy days
Wear a mask and dampen soil to prevent it from drifting into the air
Stay inside and close your windows during dust storms
Tell your doctor if you experience flu-like symptoms for more than several weeks
Ask to be tested for valley fever if you suspect it
Officials say most people who become infected with valley fever don't experience symptoms or require treatment. Around 30-40 percent of people develop sudden flu-like symptoms and most of them get well on their own within weeks. However, a small percentage (people with compromised immune systems and people of African and Asian-Pacific descent) will get an infection that spreads and puts them at risk of dying.
There have been no valley fever deaths in Santa Barbara County this year. Health officials there say there have been 13 confirmed cases as of April 1.