Public Health Investigates Valley Fever Cases

Public Health Investigates Valley Fever Cases

Findings Reveal Majority of Cases in Northern Regions of the County

With an increase in cases of Valley Fever observed countywide, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department conducted an investigation to determine if the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow were factors.

Public Health conducted a more in-depth analysis of the 56 possible Valley Fever cases reported between Dec. 4, 2017 and March 31, 2018. Interviews were conducted with 43 of the 56 patients. Eighty-five percent of the patients (47 cases) live in North County with only four patients living in South County. Of the four South County residents, two had traveled outside the County to areas where cases of Valley Fever more commonly occur. Of the 56 patients, none were firefighters, but one was a first responder on the Thomas Fire.

The investigation only included residents of Santa Barbara County; the research does not reflect data for residents of Ventura or San Luis Obispo counties. Healthcare providers in Santa Barbara County may treat residents of neighboring counties; however, their cases are reported to the public health agency of the jurisdiction in which they reside.

After concluding that Valley Fever cases in Santa Barbara County were not located in the Southern regions of the County where the disasters took place, the County looked at how local increases in Valley Fever compare with rates across the state of California. The analysis showed that the increase in local Valley Fever cases is similar to increases statewide since 2015. There has been a substantial increase in Valley Fever cases statewide since early 2016. The numbers of Valley Fever cases in both Santa Barbara County and California peaked in October and November 2017. Reported cases increased again in December 2017 and January 2018 following the Thomas Fire.

Valley Fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis or “cocci,” is caused by inhaling spores of a fungus known to exist in soil in the southwestern United States, particularly in California and Arizona. Infection occurs by breathing in spores present in dust that gets into the air when it is windy or when soil is disturbed, like digging during construction. Most infected people do not show signs of illness. Those who do become ill with Valley Fever may have symptoms similar to other illnesses, including influenza or pneumonia, so Valley Fever is not always recognized or diagnosed. While rare, people can develop more severe illnesses such as infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin or other organs.

According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the reasons for California’s increased incidence of Valley Fever are not known, but climatic environmental factors favorable to the fungus Coccidioides proliferation and airborne release might have contributed. This includes rainfall after several years of drought and soil disturbance resulting from construction.

Within Santa Barbara County, the highest risk for acquiring Valley Fever appears to be among those living in North County. The causes of increasing Valley Fever cases is a concern to local and state public health agencies and will continue to be monitored. More information from the California Department of Public Health or from the Centers for Disease Control

Valley Fever Statistics

Contact Office of Emergency Management

4408 Cathedral Oaks Rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93110
Phone: 805-681-5526
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