August is Valley Fever Awareness Month and the California Department of Public Health is reminding residents that the infectious disease is an ongoing concern in the state.
Valley Fever affects hundreds to thousands of people each year, and the highest rates are reported in the Central Valley region, including Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties, the department said.
In the past decade, the highest number of cases in California was recorded at 5,217 back in 2011, according to state data. But reported cases have been declining. Last year, 2,217 cases reported.
Valley fever occurs when microscopic fungal spores are inhaled. Most, about 60 percent of cases, experts say, will result in no symptoms or mild influenza-like symptoms, but some cases can result in fevers and pneumonia.
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Dr. Duc Vugia, chief of the Infectious Diseases Branch in the California Department of Public Health, said some groups are more vulnerable to Valley Fever. People living in endemic areas are one, as well as people with compromised immune systems. Blacks, Latinos and Filipinos are also at greater risk.
According to state health officials, the best way to reduce the risk of illness is to avoid breathing in dirt in areas where Valley is known to be common. People are advised to stay inside and keep windows and doors closed on windy days. Motorists should also try to keep their car windows closed.
Although Valley fever is not contagious, it is of special concern in years following drought and during shifts of weather patterns, UC Merced researchers have said.
Some climate factors, the state department warned, including rainfall, may influence the growth of the Valley Fever fungus, coccidioides, in the soil. Although these factors have not been consistently predictive of how many people get infected each yes.