CDPH: California Outdoor Workers at Risk for Valley Fever

Published July 26, 2017

The Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) warns that outdoor workers in California’s Central Valley, especially those who dig or disturb soil, are at risk for Valley Fever. Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is a disease caused by the inhalation of Coccidioides fungal spores, which is present in the soil of semiarid areas such as the Central Valley of California. According to CDPH, Valley Fever is “a serious illness that can cause disability or even death.” CDPH’s warning comes days after the department’s announcement of a large increase in the number of reported Valley Fever cases in California with an illness onset in 2016.

CDPH notes that 5,372 new cases of Valley Fever were reported from January through December 2016, which corresponds to an incidence rate of 13.7 cases per 100,000 people. The number of cases tops a recent peak in 2011, during which 5,213 cases were reported—the highest number of cases since individual cases were made reportable in 1995.

“People who live in or travel to areas where Valley Fever is common should take steps to avoid breathing in dusty air,” said CDPH Director and State Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “If they develop flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more, they should ask their doctor about Valley Fever.”

CDPH urges employers to protect workers from breathing in the fungal spores that can cause Valley Fever by controlling dust, providing worker training, and suspending outdoor work during heavy winds. A study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) highlights new findings on Valley Fever prevention. The article, “Dust Exposure and Coccidioidomycosis Prevention Among Solar Power Farm Construction Workers in California,” is available to AJPH subscribers.

More information on Valley Fever is available on CDPH’s website.