California Outdoor Workers at Risk for Valley Fever

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 (coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”) is an illness caused by a fungus found in the soil and dirt of some areas of the southwestern United States, and parts of Mexico and Central and South America. In California, the fungus is found in many areas of the San Joaquin Valley (Central Valley).

Anyone who lives in, works in, or visits a place with Valley Fever can be infected. It usually infects the lungs and can cause flu-like symptoms or pneumonia.  In most people, the infection will go away on its own but all persons with symptoms should see a healthcare provider. Although it can be difficult to prevent Valley Fever, the best way to reduce your risk is to avoid breathing in dirt or dust in areas where Valley Fever is common.

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.

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.