Poor air quality contributes to Valley Fever, COVID-19 risks, experts say

December 1, 2020 /

Kern County is known for bad air quality, asthma, and especially Valley Fever, a fungus spore that is inhaled into the lungs. 

When Covid-19 suddenly hit, there was uncertainty if Valley Fever patients would get worse with their disease or if their immune systems were more compromised. 

 “Several studies have already suggested that poor air quality can leave people at greater risk of contracting the virus, and at greater risk of serious illness and death,” says an article by The Conversation. “A study of the US found that even a small increase in PM2.5 concentrations of 1 microgram per cubic meter is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.” 

Both Valley Fever and Covid-19 are respiratory illnesses and can have the same symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, and other flu-like symptoms.  Both diseases can seem like pneumonia, too. 

Over time, Kern County’s numbers for Covid-19 have shockingly increased these past few months. By simply living in San Joaquin Valley you are automatically exposing your lungs to harm. On top of farmworkers being exposed to the poor air quality, studies are now showing that Latinos are testing positive with Covid-19 as well at disproportionately higher rates than other groups. 

In Kern County alone, 68 percent of the COVID-19 cases that have been identified have been identified as Hispanic, while nearly 61 percent of Kern’s COVID-19 deaths have been identified as Hispanic. 

Just by simply inhaling this air, you have a possibility of being diagnosed with Valley Fever. Latinos are leading the diagnoses of Covid-19 and are also very susceptible to Valley Fever, like Filipinos and Afrifcan Americans. 

“If you’re Latino or African American, the more likely you are to have severe Valley Fever,” says Dr. Amin, retired long time Kern County infectious disease physician. 

The risk of exposure for both Covid-19 and Valley Fever is already high for Latinos, especially those who work in the fields. Latinos who work outdoors have their lungs already at risk.

Another similarity is that there isn’t a vaccine for Valley Fever or Covid-19, although researchers say they are close to releasing a vaccine. 

Past efforts have been made for Valley Fever, but no explicit plans have been set. Because they’re different kinds of germs — Covid-19 a virus and Valley Fever a fungus — there are certain medications that help lessen the size of the fungus but not much for Covid-19, yet. 

“Considering most Valley Fever cases are in Kern County, most assume it’s natural to experience coughing symptoms,” says Amin. 

“Coughing is common for both Covid-19 and Valley Fever. You can be asymptomatic for the Coronavirus, but be super sick if you have Valley Fever,” said Amin. 

With Valley Fever there are some people who barely have symptoms and say they feel better after a few weeks, while others have to be hospitalized due to the spread to their bones, skin, or brain, according to Amin.

Amin said COVID-19 isn’t much different. When people contract Covid-19, some have symptoms and quarantine at home and some have to be hospitalized where they can eventually die. More people are dying from covid-19 than they are from valley fever.

Emily Gorospe

Emily Gorospe, 15, was born and raised in Delano, CA and attends Cesar E. Chavez High School. She enjoys playing team sports competitively, and appreciates spending time with family and friends.