Valley Fever spikes in Kern County

New report shows increase in Valley Fever cases in 2016

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Kern County Public Health released its annual report on 2016 Valley Fever data Wednesday morning. 

The numbers are alarming, and prompted the launch of an early awareness campaign this year.

Valley Fever, the fungal airborne disease that affects large swaths of the San Joaquin Valley, is skyrocketing.

"We are concerned because the actual number of new cases in 2016 was significantly higher than the previous year," said Matt Constantine, Director of Kern County Public Health. 

The county health department's annual report shows a 62% increase in the number of cases between 2015 and 2016, with 1,905 cases identified last year. That's the highest number of cases since 2012.

In response, Kern County Public Health rolled out a new campaign to boost awareness ahead of what's usually a hot, dry summer.

"We are premiering today our series of billboards and social media website changes so that we get the word out earlier," said Constantine.

Five digital billboards are now up around Bakersfield, fully funded by Kern Public Health, with possibly more to come. 

The hope according to County Public Health's Dr. Claudia Jonah, is to encourage people experiencing flu-like symptoms to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. 

"For those that do get symptomatic and get severe illness, it's extremely important to get to the right cause, which is a fungus and not a bacteria," said Dr. Jonah.

Valley Fever is caused by a fungus which grows in the soil. But when the spores fly up into the air in dust or wind, that's what finds a home in your lungs. 

The billboards offer preventative advice, like keeping keep doors and windows closed on windy days. 

Rob Purdie, a Bakersfield native and board member of the Valley Fever Americas Foundation, contracted Valley Fever five years ago.

He says he's suffered a lot from it, as he now looks forward to spreading awareness.

"I don't want my wife to go through what I went through, I don't want my kids to go through what I went through, I don't want the people driving by on Mt. Vernon Ave to go through what i went through. And the only thing I can do for them, is make them aware of valley fever," asserted Purdie.

A reminder that while Valley Fever can be deadly, it cannot be spread from person to person and the majority of infected people will not get sick.

If you would like more information on Valley Fever and this 2016 report, visit their website, kerncountyvalleyfever.com.


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