BAKERSFIELD - The Kern County Public Health Department says the county is experiencing a historically high number of Valley Fever cases.
That's why Congressman Kevin McCarthy has organized a Valley Fever symposium in Bakersfield next week.
Congressman McCarthy says next Monday and Tuesday's symposium is a chance for top health officials from around the country to take a closer look at Valley Fever in Kern County.
"Valley Fever fungus lives in the soil. While it's in the soil, it's in a dormant state," said Dr. Claudia Jonah, Kern County Public Health Department.
But, in many cases that changes when there's wind or any kind of activity that disturbs the deadly fungus.
"When they're swept up into the air, that's when people can breathe them in, and that's how the infection starts," Jonah continued.
Valley Fever has been studied for decades.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 to 60 percent of people living in parts of the southwestern U.S., Mexico and Central America are exposed to the fungus at some point in their lives.
"It's mistaken for a community-acquired pneumonia, and we just have to realize when you don't respond to a course of antibiotics, you got to start thinking Valley Fever and other conditions," said Jonah.
Now for the first time next week, a Valley Fever symposium will be held.
"The public will be better informed, but also the public, I think, will have the excitement at the idea of what we're working towards. It also gives and shows to the national figures that can work on this, the importance of it and the desire in Kern County to find a vaccine," said Congressman McCarthy.
The directors from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health will be at the symposium, taking a closer look at the infection.
This year alone, there have been 820 Valley Fever cases in Kern County that have claimed eight lives.
But so far, that's less than the past few years.
"For a lot of reasons, particularly when you don't have a cure for something already, the educational awareness becomes your tool and getting that understanding is very, very important," continued Jonah.
The Valley Fever survivors reception for survivors and their families is Monday at 4:30 p.m. at the Hans Einstein Center at the Department of Public Health on Mount Vernon Avenue. The summit will follow.
Then Tuesday, events move to the multipurpose room at Cal State Bakersfield with various presentations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.