Some medical experts say taking COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, will likely decrease the number of Valley Fever cases.
In Kern County, there were a total of 3,371 cases in 2019, which was the highest number of cases throughout California; however, the California Department of Public Health has reported that Kern County had 1,403 cases in the time period of January to October of 2020. Health officials say this number is not entirely accurate due to public health workers tirelessly working on COVID-19 cases rather than Valley Fever cases.
However, some say Kern can expect lower Valley Fever numbers for the year.
“It seems probable that masks do help prevent Valley Fever, and, in fact, there is some evidence that is preliminary that Valley Fever numbers this year may be somewhat lower numbers,” guest speaker Dr. Royce H. Johnson said during a press conference in December, hosted by Kern Medical. “It is probable that masks actually decrease influenza, [COVID-19], and Valley Fever.”
And Johnson said it’s not just Valley Fever numbers being impacted, but also the flu. He calls this the “the triple threat.” The triple threat is made up of three respiratory diseases: influenza, sars-cov-2, and coccidioidomycosis — most commonly known as the Flu, Coronavirus, and Valley Fever.
Dr. Johnson said influenza rates have also decreased due to social distancing, masking, and higher COVID-19 rates.
The California Department of Public Health announced in December a record number of Valley Fever cases in the state of California from 2019.
There were 9,004 reported new cases of Valley fever in California last year, the highest number since the state started tracking cases in 1995. While reasons for this record level are not clear, the above average level of rainfall during the 2018-2019 winter might have contributed, according to CDPH.
Consistent with previous years, the highest incidence of Valley fever in 2019 was reported in counties in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions of California, including Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare, Madera, and Monterey counties.
“With the continued increase in Valley fever cases, people living and working in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions of California should take steps to avoid breathing in dusty air outside,” said Dr. Erica Pan, CDPH Acting State Public Health Officer. “Although the symptoms of Valley fever can be similar to those of COVID-19, it’s important that individuals with lingering cough and fatigue also talk to a healthcare provider about Valley fever, especially if they have been outdoors in dusty air. People who work primarily outdoors such as construction workers and others that dig or disturb soil should especially learn more about the prevention of Valley fever.”
Valley fever is caused by breathing in the spores of a fungus that grows in the soil and dirt in some areas of California. The fungal spores, which are too small to see, can be present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, such as digging during construction.
This fungus infects the lungs and can cause respiratory symptoms including cough, fever, chest pain, and tiredness. In most people, the infection will go away on its own, but anyone who has these symptoms for more than a week should ask their healthcare provider if their symptoms could be Valley fever.