VALLEY FEVER: San Joaquin Valley Experts Worry About Epidemic
San Joaquin Valley health experts are "worried that as the Valley dries out from the deluges of El Nino, there may be an outbreak of a sometimes devastating respiratory illness" commonly known as Valley Fever, the Fresno Bee reports. Medically termed coccidioidomycosis, Valley Fever cost Kern County 47 lives and "an estimated $66 million in medical expenses and lost work and school time" during a period between 1991 and 1994, when there were 8,433 cases. Dr. Roger Larson said it is a "good bet" there could be a Valley Fever resurgence as "summer winds scatter spores from the fungus that thrives in southern San Joaquin Valley soil." Three out of every five people (60%) exposed to the spores -- which "are inhaled and cluster in the lungs" -- never become ill, while an estimated 39% of those exposed experience "flu-like symptoms of coughing and fatigue, or contract pneumonia." But in one-half of one percent (1 in 200) cases, "the disease travels through the blood stream, attacking the brain, liver and other organs." These people "can be sick for weeks or months, suffer lifetime disabilities or die.
Blame It On The Rain
The Bee notes that "sustained rain, summer dust storms and even earthquakes historically have prompted an increase in cases of the fever," but "predicting outbreaks is not an exact science." Richard Rios, epidemiologist with the Fresno County Health Services Agency, said, "There may be a lag. It may not be the wet year, but the two dry years that follow." Some experts believe the spores are "more dormant during drought years," with floods causing competing organisms to be washed away so that the Valley Fever spores can quickly multiply. Larson is currently working on a California HealthCare Foundation-funded project to develop a Valley Fever vaccine (Taylor, 4/6).