Valley Center
Valley Fever is found in rural areas like Valley Center in north San Diego County. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By Marie Waldron

Valley Fever is in our soil and the very air we breathe. Since 2011, confirmed cases of Valley Fever have been reported in 50 of California’s 58 counties, reaching a record of 5,372 confirmed cases in 2016. And the problem is growing, with 7,471 provisional cases reported in 2017.

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This region is also impacted by Valley Fever, with 63 cases reported in Riverside County and 123 in San Diego County during 2016. Valley Fever, which is caused by breathing in fungus spores that live in the soil, is spread when soil is disturbed by wind or by human activities such as digging or plowing. Unfortunately, once the spores become airborne, they can be carried hundreds of miles by the wind.

Symptoms often include fever, cough, rash, headache and muscle or joint pain. The infection can lead to chronic pneumonia and can spread from the lungs to the rest of the body, sometimes causing meningitis (spine or brain infection) and even death.

Marie Waldron
Marie Waldron

Because the symptoms resemble many other common diseases, Valley Fever cases are underreported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called Valley Fever a “silent epidemic,” and estimates that nationwide 150,000 cases go undiagnosed every year.

To help tackle this serious health problem, this year I will be co-authoring a package of bills aimed at addressing Valley Fever in our state and region. Among the new initiatives, legislation will encourage greater utilization of tests to identify new cases, foster collaboration and communication between state and local health officials dealing with the disease, require new health standards to prevent and control the disease in public works projects, and encourage more training for physicians and surgeons.

By taking these small steps, we can move toward reining in this preventable and treatable disease.

Minority Floor Leader Marie Waldron represents the 75th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Bonsall, Escondido, Fallbrook, Hidden Meadows, Pala, Palomar Mountain, Pauma Valley, Rainbow, San Marcos, Temecula, Valley Center and Vista.