Valley Fever in SLO County: What You Need to Know

Author: Public Health Department
Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 3:01 PM

The fungus that causes Valley Fever is here in SLO County soil, and is expected to rise in 2017 following the rainy winter.


With Valley Fever, knowledge is power. That's why the Public Health Department wants everyone in our community to be aware of Valley Fever and understand how to reduce the risk of becoming sick. 

What is Valley Fever? How do people get it? 

Valley Fever (or coccidioidomycosis) is an illness caused by breathing in a fungus which lives naturally in the soil here in San Luis Obispo County. (It also lives in the soil of neighboring counties, the Central Valley region, and other parts of the southwest.) When the soil is disturbed—by wind, construction, even gardening, biking or driving ATVs —people can breathe in the spores from this fungus and develop Valley Fever. 


What are the symptoms of Valley Fever?

Most people who become infected with Valley Fever (60 percent) do not experience any symptoms and do not need any treatment—their body fights off the infection. Around 30-40 percent of people develop flu-like symptoms such as severe fatigue, cough, fever, heavy sweating at night, loss of appetite, muscle and joint aches, and sometimes a rash. Most of these people get well on their own within weeks. A small percentage—between one and five percent—experience a much more serious form of the disease in which the infection spreads throughout the body. People who experience this serious form of Valley Fever are at risk of dying from complications of the disease and may need to take medication for the rest of their lives.


Why am I hearing more about Valley Fever lately?

Valley Fever appears to be on the rise in 2017. California's extended drought followed by this year's rainy winter have created conditions for the fungus to rapidly grow in the soil. Now that the soil has dried, winds have picked up and people are spending more time outdoors, more people are exposed to the fungus that causes Valley Fever. The County Public Health Department is working to raise awareness of Valley Fever among the public and among the medical community. 


Is it contagious? 

No, Valley Fever cannot be spread from one person or animal to another. Coughing cannot spread the disease. The only way you can become infected with Valley Fever is by breathing in fungal spores that were growing in the soil. 


How can I avoid Valley Fever? 

It would be nearly impossible to avoid all exposure to dirt—but you can limit your risk of Valley Fever by taking steps to avoid breathing dirt and dust in the air.  Try to avoid areas with a lot of dust, especially on windy days. If you need to spend time in a dusty area, take precautions such as wearing an appropriate mask and dampening the soil to prevent it from drifting into the air. During dust storms, stay inside and close your windows. If you drive on a dusty road, close your car windows and set the A/C to recirculate. 


What if I don't feel well? How do I know if it's Valley Fever? 

If you develop flu-like symptoms that last more than a few weeks, tell your doctor and ask to be tested for Valley Fever along with other possible causes. The symptoms of Valley Fever can be similar to other illnesses, so your doctor will likely check several possibilities before determining whether Valley Fever is the cause. 


Can my dog get Valley Fever? 

Yes. Dogs, cats, horses and other animals can become infected with Valley Fever the same way people can. Similar to people, most dogs do not experience any symptoms and naturally fight off the infection. Some dogs become sick – with symptoms such as coughing, weight loss, and fatigue – and some experience the more serious form of the disease that spreads throughout the body. After a diagnosis of Valley Fever, your veterinarian may prescribe a treatment of oral antifungal medication.

 

Where can I learn more?

You can learn more from the Public Health Department Valley Fever page or by calling Public Health at 805-781-5500. Other detailed resources include: