Valley Fever hits California just as warm dry temperatures that spread the disease have taken over the region, leaving for a potentially deadly combination.
The disease is contracted by breathing in fungus-laced spores from dust that is pushed by wind. It is prevalent in the arid portions of the United States including the southwest and across Central and South America.
California’s agricultural heartland has been hit with Valley Fever hard in the past few years, with a sharp increase in infections since 2010. Much of that is due to warmer, drier conditions, experts say.
“Research has shown that when soil is dry and it is windy, more spores are likely to become airborne in endemic areas,” said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health.
Last week the federal health officials ordered more than 3,000 vulnerable inmates to be transferred out of the area as Valley Fever hit prisons in the San Joaquin Valley as a precaution.
Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the receiver’s office, stated of the incident:
“The state of California has known since 2006 that segments of the inmate population were at a greater risk for contracting Valley fever, and mitigation efforts undertaken by (the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) to date have proven ineffective. As a result, the receiver has decided that immediate steps are necessary to prevent further loss of life.”
Valley Fever hits California harder than other regions. The number of cases there rose from 700 in 1998 to more than 5,500 in 2011. Between 2001 and 2008 there were 265 people killed by Valley Fever.
Prof. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona, said droughts create a breeding ground for Valley Fever, but rains that come after a drought are dangerous as well.
“When it dries up, that’s when the fungus goes into the air,” Galgiani said. “So when there is rain a year or two earlier, that creates more cases if drought follows.”
Valley Fever hits quietly, medical experts say, with many patients not realizing they have it and many doctors unable to detect it.