Valley Fever

Tractor creating dust in dry field

What is Valley Fever and how is it transmitted?

Valley fever is shorthand for San Joaquin Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis. It is caused by several species of Coccidioides fungus. The fungus lives in soil in dry climates (such as California’s San Joaquin Valley), and it can become airborne with dust on dry, windy days or when people are disturbing soil, such as with construction projects, agricultural work, etc. People and animals breathe in the airborne spores, which enter the lungs and can establish an infection. The infection is usually limited to the lung, but it can spread through the bloodstream to any organ.

What are symptoms of Valley Fever and how is it treated? What happens if it is not treated? 

The symptoms of Valley fever range from none at all to pneumonia symptoms with cough, shortness of breath, and exhaustion. The great majority of people have no or mild symptoms, and no treatment is required as the condition resolves on its own. In severe cases, such as when it spreads through the bloodstream to other body organs, it can lead to death. Severe cases are treated with antifungal antibiotics.

How can agricultural employees protect themselves from Valley Fever?

The only way to protect oneself is to avoid breathing soil dusts in endemic areas. In some work settings, such as construction sites, measures to reduce dust formation can be helpful, such as wetting the soil. Avoiding outdoor work on windy days in endemic areas will reduce exposure. Where avoiding work is not feasible, use of an N95 respirator mask can also reduce exposure. The California Department of Public Health provides informational material on Valley fever, including recommendations for reducing risk as described above.

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