Valley Fever Hospitalizations Doubled Over Past 12 Years, Study Says
In California, the number of hospitalizations for valley fever has doubled over the past 12 years, according to a study published by CDC on Wednesday, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Wozniacka, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/11).
About Valley Fever
Researchers estimate that each year more than 150,000 people nationwide contract an airborne fungus known as valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis.
The cocci fungus is commonly found in soil in much of the Southwestern U.S., and is especially common in California's Central Valley.
People can contract valley fever by breathing in cocci fungal spores.
The fungus typically causes mild to severe influenza-like symptoms. However, the infection also can spread from the lungs to other parts of the body and cause symptoms such as skin abscesses, blindness and death.
Details of Outbreak in State Prisons
In early May, CDC began investigating the deaths of more than three dozen California inmates who had contracted the fungus at Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons in San Joaquin Valley.
In June, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ordered California to move 2,600 inmates at risk of contracting valley fever out of the two prisons (California Healthline, 7/15).
In July, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced that he would co-chair a 14-member Congressional Valley Fever Task Force, which was created to raise awareness about the fungus-based disease. The task force consists of lawmakers from California, Arizona and Texas, which all have seen outbreaks of the disease (California Healthline, 7/30).
Details of Study
The study released this week was conducted by the California Department of Public Health and published in the CDC's journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
According to the report, the number of reported valley fever cases in California increased from 700 in 1998 to more than 5,500 in 2011.
It found that annual hospitalizations related to the condition increased from 1,074 in 2000 to 3,197 in 2011. About 9% of individuals who were hospitalized for the condition were incarcerated, according to the report.
In addition, the report found that about one-third of those hospitalized had other health complications that increased their risk of contracting valley fever, such as pregnancy, diabetes or HIV/AIDS.
About 8% -- or 1,220 -- of those hospitalized died during initial or subsequent treatment in the facilities.
Researchers said the increase in valley fever hospitalizations could be the result of:
- Warming climate conditions;
- Changing rainfall patterns;
- Improved reporting methods; or
- Better diagnosis (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/11).