Health officials say they are uncertain why the number of cases of valley fever—an illness caused by a fungus found in the soil and dirt—appear to be increasing across California this year.
From Jan. 1, 2017 to Oct. 31, 2017 a total of 5,121 provisional cases of Valley Fever were reported to local health departments in California, according to provisional data released by the California Department of Public Health Tuesday.
This reflects an increase of 34 percent, or of 1,294 provisional cases, from the 3,827 reported during the same period in 2016. These numbers include both suspected cases and confirmed cases of Valley Fever.
The number of cases of Valley Fever varies from year to year and is most common in the summer and late fall; however, state officials are uncertain why cases in 2017 are on the rise.
“With an increase in reported Valley Fever cases, it is important that people living, working and travelling in California are aware of its symptoms, especially in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast, where it is most common,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith in a statement.
Provisional data from the California Department of Health also indicated that the number of reported cases were also on the rise in Los Angeles County and in Kern County.
In Los Angeles County, 681 cases were reported in 2017 compared to 621 during the same period in 2016 and 504 in 2015. And in Kern County, 1,855 cases were reported in 2017 compared to 1,306 during the same period in 2016 and 529 during the same period in 2015.
Caused by the spore of fungus that grows in the soil in part of the southwestern United States, Valley Fever can infect individuals who breathe in spores present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed.
Also known as Coccidioidomycosis, Valley Fever can display symptoms similar to other illnesses like influenza.
“In these areas, anyone who develops flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever or difficulty breathing, lasting two weeks or more, should ask their health care provider about Valley Fever,” Smith said.
Severe complications of the illness include pneumonia or infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin or other organs.
To reduce one’s risk of catching Valley Fever, the California Department of Public Health recommends staying inside with the windows closed in areas where Valley Fever is common, wearing a properly fitted mask when outdoors and refraining from disturbing the soil whenever possible.
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