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Commentary by Enaya Hanbali
| Saturday, Jul 2, 2016

EnayaHanbaliOn June 25, state Sen. Sharon Runner – who represents Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale and Victorville – put together “Raising Valley Fever Awareness” in Lancaster at the Antelope Valley Hospital Community Resource Center. She wasn’t able to make it, so Assemblyman Scott Wilk hosted the event on her behalf.

According to the epidemiologist presenters, valley fever is an illness caused by a fungus called coccidioides that lives in soil and dirt. It comes from winds, dust storms and earthquakes and is present in the top few inches of soil. It is understandable why epidemiologists want to raise awareness about valley fever in the Antelope Valley, especially with how windy it gets here.

According to the Department of Public Health, signs and symptoms of valley fever are coughs, fever, chest pain, headache, muscle aches, rash on upper trunk or extremities, joint pain in the knees or ankles, and fatigue for at least seven to 21 days. One can have valley fever without any of these symptoms.

According to epidemiologist Ramon Guevara, individuals who have risk of exposure of valley fever are residents and travelers in endemic areas, prisoners, correctional facility workers, military workers, border patrol, construction workers, agricultural workers and archaeologists. He also shared that males are more likely to get valley fever than women, and that African Americans and Filipinos, along with the possibility of Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics, are more likely to get valley fever than other races.

According to Guevara, from 1992 to 2005, there have been about 250 cases per 1 million people of valley fever, which is the highest rate in comparison to the rest of Los Angeles County. He also shared that from 2003 to 2005 alone, there were about 160 cases per 1 million. He also shared with the audience that valley fever was present at high rates during the 1994 earthquake in Northridge and another time during the construction boom in the Antelope Valley from 2003 to 2005. This must mean many construction workers had high exposure to valley fever from 2003 to 2005.

The best solution to prevent valley fever is to raise awareness about it, and Sen. Runner and her presenters have done a great job explaining and educating the community about it. However, there is more that can be done. We also need to educate companies of certain industries such as the state prison system, military, construction and agriculture about valley fever. There may be a need for laws to require companies to protect workers, especially our construction workers, by making them wear mandatory respiratory masks to keep them safe while working, which is recommended by the California Department of Public Health to prevent valley fever. According to the Department of Public Health, a worker who is outside for long hours wearing a respiratory mask can prevent valley fever by at least 90 percent more than a worker who does not wear one.

I believe the presentation overlooked the issue that there could be an undercount of Hispanics; many of these individuals generally work in construction and agriculture, especially here in the Antelope Valley. There is also a possibility that some of them could be undocumented, which would make it extremely expensive for them to go see a doctor to get checked for valley fever.

It is not understandable why there isn’t more research on valley fever to get updated information about it. Especially since the number of cases are in the millions and increasing. The best thing one can do as a resident or a visitor to the Antelope Valley is to stay indoors when it gets dusty outside.



Enaya Hanbali is a native Southern Californian of Arab American descent. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public policy and administration from California State University, Long Beach.



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  1. Catlan Rich says:

    250 cases per 1 million people is very low, there are numerous and far more dangerous illnesses that we are exposed to daily. This fungus is not generally present on the surface but often found when the ground is disturbed and broken. Most of the cases attributed to the Northridge earthquake were do to such, were people nearby and downwind of slides became exposed.

  2. jim says:

    In addition, people raised in and used to the “desert” valleys and hills of SoCal have had their immune systems adjusted to exposure to coccideoides over a long period of time. That is one of the benefits (?) of living here from your youth. Their immune systems have built up “immunity”, not from the fungus itself, but from it’s effects.

    Two people that I know have become infected and suffered illness from this disease. One is happy and healthy 20+ years after his illness. The other became ill in his 60s and had a severe case. His illness lasted over a year, and may have contributed to his death some years later.

    This disease is far more dangerous to recent transplants to the Southwest desert areas. The famous “Shark Tooth Hill” in the Bakersfield area is well known as a danger to rock-hounds and fossil collectors.

    Aside from this, it is generally a very good idea for anyone involved in excavation and work around recently excavated sites to wear the appropriate respirators on the job. The only way I know to prevent inhalation of the spores is to wear HEPA filter respirators. Most employers (in my experience) do not invest in these more expensive devices since plain “dust masks” are much cheaper.

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