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New Valley Fever Run In Taft Brings Disease Awareness To Rural Kern County

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio
Taft Union High School junior and valley fever survivor Bella Garcia, far right, ran five kilometers for disease awareness along with her boyfriend, mother and three family friends at a run/walk event this past weekend in Taft.

Preliminary state data suggest nearly 8,700 Californians were diagnosed with valley fever in 2019, which would be a record high. The state’s highest case rate is consistently reported in Kern County where, this past weekend, one rural town held its first race to raise disease awareness.

Around 50 or so people participated in a 5K run and 2K walk at Taft’s West Side Recreation and Park District on Saturday. Although turnout was relatively small compared to the hundreds who show up each summer for a valley fever walk in north Bakersfield, Evan Lanuza is optimistic the race can grow larger every year. He’s the Director of the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical, which sponsored last weekend’s event.

“Taft and a lot of rural communities don't have the resources that cities do, so for us to come out and reach out to the community, provide resources and education whenever we can, is hugely important,” Lanuza said.

Credit Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Garcia finished the five-kilometer race in second place in her age category.

One of the runners was Bella Garcia, a high school junior from Taft who was diagnosed with valley fever last summer. She alternatively ran and walked the 5 kilometers along with her boyfriend, her mom and three others all wearing “Team Bella” t-shirts. “It was a struggle, it was hard to breathe a little bit, but I just kept pushing, and I had my inhaler on me, so I made sure I had that and drank a lot of water,” the 16-year-old said.

Garcia said that when she contracted the fungal disease six months ago, she knew little about it and had met only one other person who’d been diagnosed with it. “I feel like people in Taft aren't really aware of valley fever,” she said. “I think this is a great opportunity to share others’ stories and make them aware that this is a disease that needs to be brought to others' attention.”

Despite still recovering from the disease, Garcia finished the race in second place in her age category. She said the disease still forces her to occasionally miss school or sports practices—she swims, dives and is on the cheerleading squad—but she said her doctors are optimistic she’ll make a full recovery.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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