The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is reporting a record number of new Valley Fever cases in California in 2017.
From Jan. through Dec. 2017, 7,466 new cases of Valley Fever were reported to the state health department. It was the second consecutive record year for Valley Fever cases.
CDPH has been tracking individual cases of the disease since 1995.
Most of the 2017 cases were reported in counties in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions, including Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare, Madera, and Monterey counties. CDPH says nearly 64 percent of the cases were in one of these counties. The most were in Kern County, which reported 2,748 cases.
San Luis Obispo County reported 419 cases of Valley Fever in 2017, up from 259 cases in 2016.
Santa Barbara County also saw an increase with 104 cases in 2017 compared to 62 cases in 2016.
Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by breathing in the spores of a fungus that grows in certain types of soil. The fungal spores can be present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed.
Health officials say most infected people won’t show signs of illness, but those who do become ill may have flu-like symptoms that can last for two weeks or more.
While most people recover fully, some may develop severe complications that can include pneumonia or infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin, or other organs.
There is currently no vaccine, but antifungal medications are available.
CDPH says it’s unclear why there has been such a large increase in reported Valley Fever cases in California since 2014, but it may have to do with heavy rainfall after years of drought as well as other climatic and environmental factors, a growing population, and increased awareness, testing, and diagnosis by health care providers.