LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) announced today that the number of reported Valley Fever infections continues to increase. In 2016, a total of 714 cases were reported across Los Angeles County, compared with 521 in 2015, a 37% increase. Each year since 2009, a greater number of cases were reported than the year before, and the total number of reports has increased by nearly 4-fold during that time. Overall the rate of Valley Fever in Los Angeles County each year is about 8 cases per 100,000 people.
While cases are reported from throughout the County, there are some parts that are affected to a greater extent than others: people who live in the Antelope Valley are almost 9-times as likely to be diagnosed with Valley Fever compared with persons who live elsewhere in the county. Men are about twice as likely as women to be affected by Valley Fever and rates of illness are highest among middle-aged and older adults. Cases can occur at any time of year. The exact reasons for the increase in the number of reported cases are unknown but may include changes in weather and rainfall, increased diagnosis and reporting by providers, as well as persons moving into new developments in areas of higher risk.
Valley Fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”, is caused by the spore of a fungus that grows in certain types of soil in the Southwest United States, as well as in some areas of Central and South America. People become infected by breathing in spores that are present in dust that is in the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, such as during construction or gardening activities. The best way to reduce the risk of illness is to avoid breathing in dirt or dust in areas where Valley Fever is common. In these areas, when it is windy and the air is dusty, people should stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. While driving, keep car windows closed and use recirculating air conditioning, if available. If you must be outdoors in dusty air, consider wearing an N95 mask. Refrain from disturbing the soil, whenever possible. Public Health is working with CDPH to educate the public and healthcare providers about ways to reduce the risk of becoming infected.
Most affected people exhibit no symptoms or have flu-like illness, often lasting for more than 2-weeks. While most people recover fully, a few individuals may develop severe illness such as pneumonia, meningitis, or dissemination to other parts of the body. If you think you might have Valley Fever, visit your health care provider for evaluation. Anyone can get Valley Fever; those most at-risk for severe disease include people 60 years of age or older, African-Americans, Filipinos, pregnant women, and people with diabetes or other conditions that weaken their immune system. People who live, work, or travel in Valley Fever areas are also at a higher risk of becoming infected, especially if they work or participate in activities where soil is disturbed.
Public Health has worked with community groups, local officials and healthcare providers to improve awareness of Valley Fever and communicate ways to prevent infection. Through a series of presentations to doctors and other clinicians, Public Health physicians shared best practices for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of infection. In addition, Public Health has begun an innovative campaign focusing on educating children who not only learn about Valley Fever themselves but also bring that learning and educational materials to their families.
For more information on Valley Fever visit: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/Diseases/Cocci .htm.
The Department of Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of over 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health comprises nearly 4,000 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $900 million. To learn more about the LA County Department of Public Health and the work they do, visit PublicHealth.LACounty.gov, and follow Public Health on social media at twitter.com/LAPublicHealth, facebook.com/LAPublicHealth, and youtube.com/LAPublicHealth.