Your Health Matters


Doctor addresses Valley Fever concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 10:46 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 14:01:41-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — As the coronavirus continues to sicken people in Kern County Dr. Royce Johnson from Kern Medical took time on Tuesday to address concerns about Valley Fever as it intersects with the pandemic. He referred to the convergence of COVID-19, the flu, and Valley Fever at this point in the year as a "triple threat."

The peak season for Valley Fever is from June to December. During that time in 2019, the state saw 9,000 cases of Valley Fever. Nearly a third of those were reported in Kern County. This was an all-time high for the state.

Dr. Johnson did not say how things are trending at this point for 2020, but one thing to keep in mind is that all of these illnesses are airborne. COVID-19 and Valley Fever both attack the body's respiratory system so symptoms could look similar at first. However, if someone is symptomatic for more than 10 days, the diagnosis is likely Valley Fever.

BREAKOUT: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Valley fever is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides. The scientific name for Valley fever is “coccidioidomycosis,” and it’s also sometimes called “San Joaquin Valley fever” or “desert rheumatism.” The term “Valley fever” usually refers to Coccidioides infection in the lungs, but the infection can spread to other parts of the body in severe cases (this is called “disseminated coccidioidomycosis”).

The fungus is known to live in the soil in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and Central and South America. The fungus was also recently found in south-central Washington. People can get Valley fever by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air in these areas.

Symptoms of Valley Fever include:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Rash on upper body or legs

In extremely rare cases, the fungal spores can enter the skin through a cut, wound, or splinter and cause a skin infection.

While Valley Fever typically peaks during certain months, Dr. Johnson said it is always a possible diagnosis here in Kern County, so it's important to take precautionary measures. This means that the masks people are wearing to keep them safe from COVID-19 will also keep them safe from Valley Fever but for completely different reasons.

Valley Fever differs from COVID-19 because it is not contagious, rather it is contracted through particles in the dusty air. Masks help prevent those particles from getting into the lungs. It's also a good idea to keep doors and windows closed as the wind picks up to help protect yourself from Valley Fever.