Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 9th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 10

Thomas Fire, mudslides not to blame for spike in valley fever


A recent investigation into an uptick of reported cases of valley fever in Santa Barbara County concluded that the trend was not caused by the county's earlier natural disasters.

During the study, which was released by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department on May 8, county officials reviewed 56 cases of valley fever reported between Dec. 4, 2017, and March 31, when the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides in Montecito ravaged South County.

The County Public Health Department interviewed 43 of the 56 patients, according to Deputy Director Susan Klein-Rothschild, who said several of the patients could not be reached during the investigation. Although one of the 56 patients reviewed was a first responder who worked on the Thomas Fire, none were firefighters.

The investigation determined that 85 percent of the 56 valley fever patients lived in northern Santa Barbara County. Nine percent lived in central Santa Barbara County, according to the study, and two of the four South County residents who contracted valley fever had recently traveled outside of South County.

Valley fever, also known to many health care providers as coccidioidomycosis, is an illness that can lead to chest pain, tiredness, fever, coughing, muscle and joint aches, rash, unexplained weight loss, and difficulty breathing—all symptoms that can last more than a month. The disease is contracted by breathing in the spores of a fungus present in much of California's soil. When soil where the fungus grows is disturbed, its spores are released in dust and can be easily breathed in.

The county's Public Health Department launched its investigation in February, after officials became aware of concerns within the local health care community of a potential link between valley fever and the Thomas Fire.

But Klein-Rothschild said that because most studied valley fever patients lived in North County—outside areas where the county's largest natural disasters occured—it's likely the increase in cases is not associated with the county's fires and mudslides.

"Sometimes we see something and we jump to conclusions or assume it's associated with something else," Klein-Rothschild told the Sun. "So that's why it's important to look at the data."

The spike, she said, actually appears to be a statewide trend, and its causes are relatively unknown.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 in 2017, Californians reported 5,121 total cases of valley fever, according to data collected by the California Department of Public Health, a 25 percent increase from the 3,827 cases reported in the same time period in 2016. The trend continued in Santa Barbara County, which saw a 60 percent increase in valley fever cases from 2015 to 2016, according to data collected by the Santa Barbara County Health Department.

Data from the recent investigation also correlates closely with the epidemiology and seasonality of California's statewide increases, Klein-Rothschild said.

Klein-Rothschild said the county will be working with the California Department of Public Health to find out more about valley fever's increasing presence in the area.

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