Update on Valley Fever
The Cohen Group has written about Valley Fever many times over the years, but we find it important to provide readers of our newsletter updates when new information is available. Of late, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) now has a page on their website that provides excellent information about the illness. For those not familiar with Valley Fever, it is a disease due to inhaling a fungus commonly found in the soil, primarily in the Central Valley of California, but also can be found in Arizona, and in parts of South America. Coccidiomycosis, or Valley Fever can affect anyone who works, lives, or even visits these areas. Valley Fever is not solely a work-related illness. That said, if you have employees who work in these areas and particularly if you are involved in construction or work outdoors in these areas, we strongly encourage you to include information about Valley Fever and protective measures to minimize the risk of disease (such as respiratory protection to prevent breathing dust generated from disturbing the soil) as part of your Injury and Illness Prevention Plan.
Valley Fever is difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to having the flu and generally, subside on its own. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease, but antifungal medications are available for treatment. Of particular interest is a recently released report from the Infectious Diseases Branch of CDPH. The report states that “as of May 31, 2018, CDPH received 7,455 reports of incident cases of coccidiomycosis…” CDPH stated that the incidence of this disease in 2017 is the “highest annual incidence reported in California since [the disease] became individually reportable in 1995.” Statewide, the incidence of the disease is highest in Kern County, followed by King, San Luis Obispo, Fresno and Tulare counties. The number of cases reported in the State increased from 3,154 in 2015 to 7,455 in 2017, an increase of over 4,300 cases. Interestingly, the report does not provide information as to the reason for the incredible increase, but the CDPH website states, that the causes of the increase “are not well understood, but climatic and environmental factors favorable to Coccidioides proliferation and airborne release, and increases in non-immune populations in endemic areas might have been contributing factors.” It has also been postulated that a greater awareness of Valley Fever may be, in part, an explanation for the apparent increased incidence of the disease. The Cohen Group will continue to keep you apprised as new information becomes available. We offer employee training on Valley Fever if you work in these areas.