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Health officials warn Valley Fever is on the rise in California

Valley Fever is endemic to SLO County which means that we will see cases every year. Despite expecting a spike in cases, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officials are reporting a decrease.
Posted at 6:35 PM, Aug 02, 2023

August is Valley Fever Awareness Month and public health officials are concerned about its spread in California.

Valley fever is spread by inhaling spores of a fungus that is found in the soil.

San Luis Obispo County officials believe that we may be seeing an increase in case numbers soon.

“Anyone who breathes can get this disease if you spend time in an endemic area like we have here on the Central Coast,” said Dr. Brian Roberts, Med Stop Urgent Care Medical Director.

According to recent data from the California Public Health Department, the state has recorded more than 3,200 cases of Valley fever in the first six months of this year.

The current total is less compared to last year's data of more than 3,400 cases, but local public health officials are concerned that the weather may cause that trend to change.

“I think the term 'increase in California' is more [that] it's increasing geographically, so around the state, we’re seeing it in more counties. While our cases have actually locally been declining since 2017, historically, we’ve found that during periods of drought, we have really low cases, and then heavy winters right after a drought season, we experience an increase in cases,” said Jessie Burmester, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department Epidemiologist.

While the disease can be mild for some people, it can pose a risk for certain populations.

“The great majority with Valley fever don’t even know they have it. Most of them don’t even get sick enough to see a physician. Those that do get sick enough to see a physician, most of them don’t need therapy either,” Dr. Roberts explained. “It is a self-limiting disease unless it is severe disease or you have very high-risk factors which, interestingly, include being Filipino descent, African descent, having severe diabetes, or an immunocompromised system.”

Local health officials say exposure to Valley fever often happens in the summer, but a diagnosis is more likely to be made in the fall and winter seasons.

For those who are concerned they may have Valley fever, a blood test is recommended.

"It's not going to go away. It's here in our county, so we want people to be educated and be aware and look out for themselves,” Burmester said. “Ask to be tested and if treatment is necessary, which most of the time it is not, to be able to have a healthcare provider there to at least assess whether or not treatment is necessary."

Local health officials say that the disease is not contagious. They recommend staying away from areas where there is a lot of dust.