Valley Fever Outbreak in California Desert

Valley fever outbreak affects solar power workers in California desert

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Coccidioidomycosis, or valley fever, may sound strange to those unfamiliar with it. Nevertheless, this fungal infection can be serious. And now it seems some Californians are becoming familiar with the condition.

An outbreak of valley fever in California has infected 28 patients and put some officials on alert.

Valley fever is a fungal infection contracted when soil is disrupted, releasing fungal spores into the air, and eventually into the lungs of patients.

Once inhaled, it can cause serious illness.

"Learn about regional infection risks."

The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that the patients were workers from two separate solar power construction sites in San Luis Obispo County, north of LA.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the fungi that cause valley fever are common in the soil of certain areas and can be released by anything that disturbs the ground, like the wind, construction or farming. The severity of the infection, which is not contagious, can range drastically.

Some patients have no symptoms, some have mild flu-like symptoms that can be treated easily and, in some cases, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, causing a variety of serious problems and even death.

According to the LA Times, the infected California workers were employed at “two large-scale photovoltaic power plants whose construction often requires considerable scraping and clearing to make way for thousands of acres of solar panels.”

The news of the infections comes as the state is coping with relocating inmates in response to an ongoing outbreak in two desert prisons. The LA Times reported that three dozen inmates from the prisons have died from valley fever since 2006. 

“The threat of acquiring the respiratory illness extends to residents living near expansive construction sites,” reported the LA Times. “That risk is rising given the scope of the renewable energy boom centered in the state. Scores of solar projects are planned for millions of acres across California's Mojave Desert and elsewhere.”

Valley fever cases have been on the rise in recent years, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this could be due to increases in the number of people exposed to the fungus, or due to changes in the detection and reporting of the infections.

The CDC reported that in 2011, 20,000 valley fever cases were reported in the US, but that there are an estimated 150,000 undiagnosed cases every year. 

According to the CDC, some people have a greater likelihood of developing severe forms of valley fever, including African Americans, Asians, pregnant women in their third trimester and those with a weakened immune system (like HIV/AIDS patients or organ transplant recipients, for example).

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 2, 2013
Last Updated:
November 5, 2013