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Valley fever soars, especially on the Central Coast, as California weather heats up – Daily News

On a windy summer day ten and a half years ago, insidious fungal spores, each a fraction of the width of a human hair, drifted through the orchards of Modesto and entered Jaime Gonzalez’s lungs.

A few weeks later, Gonzalez became weak and febrile. , causing skin ulcers. Sometimes, he said, his legs fail him.

“I try to stay where I am, because I die on my feet,” said 48-year-old Gonzalez.

A recent University of California, Berkeley study found that Valley Fever rates could rise as hotter, drier conditions plague the state amid the deepening climate crisis. And there are concerns about rain after a long dry season. This is the pattern that California has experienced in recent weeks, which could lead to further spread of the disease.

Valley fever occurs when a person inhales spores of the soil-borne coccidioides fungus. Those who live and work around dry lands — farmers, construction workers, firefighters, archaeologists, Central Valley prisoners — face the greatest risks.

Jaime Gonzalez says he had never heard of it when he had Valley Fever ten and a half years ago. Neither was his late father, a farmer who was at greater risk of infection than most residents of the Valley. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

But even among those groups, the disease is often unknown. Gonzalez’s father, a farmer, had never heard of the disease until his son, who was a legal assistant at the time, contracted it in 2008.

The disease can last for years, has no vaccine, and disproportionately affects people of color. Infections are still highest in the San Joaquin Valley, but infections are increasing most rapidly along the Central Coast, especially as the drought is coming to an end.

For example, Monterey County recorded 7 Valley Fever cases per 100,000 population in 2008. This number has since trended upward, settling at 35 per 100,000 population in 2021. A five-fold increase in 13 years.

This is lower than landlocked counties like Caen, which reached 382 cases per 100,000 in 2019. But researchers say coastal increases are accelerating, boosting statewide statistics. Cases in California tripled from 2014 to 2018.

About 40% of patients develop symptoms that usually last for weeks to months before disappearing. These include fever, cough, fatigue, sweating, joint and muscle pain.

In 1% of patients, the fungus spreads to the skin, bones, or joints, as in Gonzalez. In the worst-case scenario, it reaches the brain and spinal cord and inflames the membranes that surround them.

Gonzalez didn’t catch Valley Fever from someone else. This disease is not contagious. A dust storm raged when he was discharged from Modesto Hospital after a month of thrombosis.

The heat and dryness destroy the fungus, releasing microscopic spores into the soil. The wind then blows them away, sometimes over the ocean. Sea otters and dolphins can also get valley fever.

Hot and dry conditions are becoming more widespread due to the climate crisis. Cases began to appear in southeastern Washington in 2010, although areas from Arizona to the San Joaquin Valley remain the most prevalent. Research suggests that at the turn of the next century, the disease would spread eastward beyond the Canadian borders to the Dakotas.

The fungus cannot survive heat and drought alone. We also need water.

Jennifer Head, an environmental health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the recent study, said, “Fungus cannot grow effectively where soil moisture is low.

That’s why fungal growth spikes when the drought ends, ready to release more spores when hot, dry conditions resume. is expected,” said Head.

Head’s team analyzed climate data and records of over 81,000 Valley Fever events in California between 2000 and 2020, along with models of how many cases would have occurred in the absence of drought. Researchers found that from April 2016 to March 2018, California recorded about 2,650 more cases than usual after the state’s last major drought ended. This more than offsets the inhibitory effect that drought had on fungal growth.

The fungus’ need for both drought and moisture explains why some coastal counties are reporting the steepest spikes in cases. , but grows slowly. The California coast, on the other hand, provides ample soil moisture and is now experiencing frequent dry heat due to climate change.

As the disease rises, people of color bear the greatest risk of severe infections, even after considering occupation, says Dr. David Stevens, director of the California Institute of Medicine in San Jose. The most susceptible is of Filipino ancestry, who is 175 times more likely to spread the fungus beyond the lungs compared to Caucasian patients.

Modesto's Jaime Gonzalez, 48, is pictured in front of a walnut orchard in Modesto, California on Thursday, January 19, 2023. A dust storm occurred during treatment for a blood clot, causing fungal spores to drift into the lungs and cause valley fever.  Gonzalez was able to walk with his cane after suffering his 14th blood clot in Valley Fever. He also suffers from balance issues and his immunity is compromised.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Jaime Gonzalez, 48, stands in a walnut orchard in Modesto. In 2008, he contracted Valley Fever when he was discharged from the hospital after a month of hospitalization for blood clots. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Medical experts don’t know why. “That’s him a $64,000 question,” Stevens said.

Because early symptoms resemble bacterial or viral pneumonia, diagnosis is often delayed, allowing time for the fungus to take hold.

Once diagnosed, patients usually take oral antifungal medications, but other methods may be necessary in some cases.

East Bay teacher and patient Stephanie, who also asked not to reveal her surname, contracted Valley Fever in the Modesto sandstorm. The fungus reached her brain and spinal cord and at one point caused her to have two strokes in one night. Her medicine was injected into her spinal canal. A powerful dose paralyzed her legs and made it difficult for her to walk.

She recovered enough to run her first half marathon in 2018. However, such recovery is rare, and she is still taking medication to prevent a recurrence.

“Medicine is getting better all the time,” said Stevens, who has worked with Valley Fever patients for half a century.

One reason there are no vaccines is that most vaccine research is aimed at bacterial and viral infections rather than fungal infections. The main hurdle, Stevens said, is that Valley fever has not yet affected enough people for vaccine development to benefit drug companies. Well, a vaccine is still many years away.

Despite his chronic pain, Gonzalez regularly visits groups of migrant workers to explain the risks of valley fever and promote prevention strategies such as wearing N95 masks and wetting the soil before working. increase.

“I push myself. I really do,” said Gonzalez. “I’m not giving up.”

https://www.dailynews.com/2023/01/30/as-californias-climate-heats-up-valley-fever-spikes-especially-on-central-coast/ Valley fever soars, especially on the Central Coast, as California weather heats up – Daily News

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