Kern County has long been California’s epicenter for the fungal disease valley fever, and new data released Wednesday shows more people are contracting it.
The county’s valley fever caseload in 2018 was its second highest ever recorded, said Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine during a press conference Wednesday. Over 2,900 cases were reported last year, after a steady rise since 2015. “Unfortunately, this is the highest number of new cases we have had in Kern County in 27 years, since 1992,” he said.
It’s likely the disease is even more common than that, as health officials believe most cases go undiagnosed.
Mild valley fever can be mistaken for pneumonia, but in rare cases, the disease can spread throughout the body and require lifelong treatment. The disease is most commonly diagnosed in men, and among African-Americans and Asian and Pacific Islanders.
The disease is caused by inhaling fungal spores that grow in arid soil. Disease experts still don’t know how to predict severe years, or why some people experience worse symptoms than others. “If valley fever was found in a big city or on the East Coast, and the appropriate number of research dollars were put into it, we’d have had a solution for this disease a very long time ago,” said Russell Judd, the CEO of Kern Medical, which runs the Valley Fever Institute.
In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown allocated $8 million of the state budget to valley fever research and outreach.