Valley Fever increases, 11 cases this year

FRESNO, Calif.

Doctors say they normally treat one or two cases of the disease at any one time. But right now they have eleven patients. Eight kids have contracted the disease in just the last month.

The flu-like and potentially deadly illness is caused by inhaling airborne spores of a dirt-dwelling fungus that is active here in the Valley.

Doctors say the best thing people can do to prevent Valley Fever is to avoid inhaling excessive amounts of dust -- especially in the southern part of the Valley.



Note to media:

This is an awareness message. Dr. McCarty is available for interviews on Friday, May 25 at Children's Hospital Central California. Please call 353.7049 to arrange.

Busy Year for Valley Fever

Children's Hospital, along with other areas of the Central Valley, has seen a significant increase in Valley Fever. In March the number of Valley Fever inpatients at Children's peaked at 16. Normally Children's has only about one or two inpatient cases at any one time. Currently there are 11 inpatients being treated with Valley Fever, eight admitted in the month of May.

Valley fever can be difficult to detect, but early treatment is critical to preventing dangerous progression of the illness. The disease is primarily caused by a fungus called Coccidioides immitis, spreading through spores in the air when contaminated soil is disturbed such as by construction, dust storms and earthquakes.

Late summer and early fall are peak periods for Valley Fever infection but this year's late rains meant longer periods of dry conditions. People become infected by inhaling airborne spores of the dirt-dwelling fungus and dry conditions allow the fungus to become airborne.

The disease may not manifest until months after a person is infected. There's no vaccine to prevent Valley Fever but efforts are ongoing to develop one.

"The best thing people can do is avoid inhaling excessive amounts of dust - especially in the South Valley," advised Dr. James McCarty, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Central California.

Dr. McCarty recommends families and doctors suspect Valley Fever particularly if:

*The child has pneumonia *The child has symptoms that can't be explained or persist without improvement

When Valley Fever is suspected, a doctor can order an antibody blood test or culture. Treatment usually includes oral or injected antifungal medicine and treatment time can range from three to six months or years for more serious cases.

"There is no reason for the public to panic, but awareness is key to getting quick treatment for this disease," said Dr. McCarty.

Since last summer Children's Hospital has admitted about 20 children for Valley Fever. While most of these cases come from the South Valley, including six from Avenal alone, Children's also has affected patients from Fresno, Clovis and Los Banos.

Valley Fever is an illness that usually affects the lungs. Sometimes other parts of the body are impacted, such as the brain, bone, skin and other organs. This is called disseminated Valley Fever. Without proper treatment, the disease can lead to severe pneumonia, meningitis and even death.

People at risk for severe Valley Fever include:

*Those with weakened immune systems
*Persons of African or Filipino descent
*Women in the third trimester of pregnancy

About 60 percent of those infected never show symptoms. The others develop the following ailments that can last a month:

*Chest pain
*Muscle aches

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