It can last for years after being diagnosed. Valley fever, a fungus found in the soil, is contracted by breathing in the spores kicked up into the air.
“Part of the challenge of diagnosing it is that it looks like a lot of different things, especially in the early going,” Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County Health Officer, said.
The majority of people who contract it, Borenstein says, do not experience symptoms. A very low percentage experience severe reactions. Symptoms can mirror the flu and include fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pains, and rashes on the upper body or legs.
Valley Fever can develop further into life-threatening signs when the infection spreads beyond the lungs. Mayo Clinic states most often these parts include the skin, bones, liver, brain, heart, and the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord (meninges).
“It can affect any part of the body and when you get to that stage it requires a very lengthy treatment and with a variety of drugs that can have nasty side effects,” Borenstein said.
Documented cases across the Golden State rose 11 percent in 2018 with nearly 8,200 cases, according to a report released by the California Department of Public Health last week.
In San Luis Obispo County, 2018 saw 460 cases diagnosed, a 450 percent increase from the 102 cases in 2010.
Meanwhile, Kern County remains the highest number of diagnosed in the state with more than 3,000 cases.
“It’s just likely that only the most serious cases are diagnosed and reported, so the numbers we have are probably just the tip of the iceberg on how many have been infected,” Borenstein said.
The increase is two-fold — more accurate testing, as well as more construction and development.
“Having it on a molecular test is a lot better than just diagnosing off of what it looks like on a plate and it’s an accurate diagnosis so the patient can get treated properly,” said Kyllie Lindsey, a public health microbiologist for San Luis Obispo County.
“Just by virtue of stirring up the soil is probably a big reason why we’re seeing more of it,” Borenstein added.
A support group is available for those who suffer from the effects of Valley Fever. You can find and join that Facebook group here.
Valley Fever cannot be spread from person to person.