Valley Fever Cases Increase in Southern California Following Wildfires
Ventura County has seen a "spike" in cases of valley fever -- a flu-like illness caused by airborne fungus -- since last fall's wildfires, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to Dr. Robert Levin, county public health officer, the fires destroyed vegetation and ground cover in the area, exposing soil that contains fungal spores that can be transmitted by dust particles in the wind. Since October, more than 70 cases of valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, have been reported in Ventura County, two-thirds of which were in the eastern part of the county where the Simi fire destroyed more than 108,000 acres. Normally, the county sees about two cases of valley fever per month. About 60% of people who contract the disease do not have symptoms, but those who become ill can experience fever, respiratory problems, coughs, headaches, muscle aches and rashes. More severe cases can lead to pneumonia and meningitis. Certain people -- such as those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, diabetic patients and those in some ethnic groups -- are at risk for developing a form of the disease that can affect joints, bones, tissues and the nervous system. Levin said, "If you live in this area, you're at risk for getting" valley fever, adding, "I cannot be sure, but it is logical that (brush fires are) the cause" of the increase in the reported cases of the disease. According to the Times, nearby San Bernardino County, which also was affected by last fall's fires, also has seen an increase in cases of valley fever, recording 13 cases in the last three months -- the same number as was reported in all of 2003. San Diego County also has seen a slight increase in cases of valley fever (Griggs, Los Angeles Times, 3/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.