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Cal-OSHA says 'Valley Fever' is on the rise in California

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health says that a condition known as Valley Fever has been on the rise among California workers. The state Department of Health says that roughly 60 percent of Valley Fever cases are relatively mild and many people who become infected may never see symptoms. But, Valley Fever (which is technically called Coccidioidomycosis) can be serious for some workers who have been exposed.

Workers can be exposed to the disease when spores that live in top soil are disturbed and sent into the air. Workers who inhale the spores can contract the potentially serious illness. While the spores are present in soil, the condition afflicts a variety of different types of workers.

Officials say that the spores are generally found in greater abundance in the top soil of the Central Valley, with counties like Kern, Kings and San Luis Obispo among those seeing the highest rates of Valley Fever. However, the spores are found in much of California.

Cal-OSHA says that construction workers, including those who are members of road crews and excavation crews, are among those who may be at higher risk of inhaling the spores that can cause Valley Fever. Wildland firefighters, geologists and (to a lesser extent) agricultural workers may be at risk of exposure to the fungus. The Department of Health says that the fungus may not thrive as well in topsoils that are well-irrigated and cultivated.

While roughly 40 percent of people infected with the fungal disease may develop moderate to more serious illness from the fungal disease, roughly 5 percent of workers who inhale the spores may suffer even more widespread illness if the fungus spreads outside of the lungs. Officials say that there has been a 13 percent rise in the number of Valley Fever cases in California this year, prompting Cal-OSHA to raise the red flag to bring greater awareness of the potentially serious work-related illness.

Workers who suffer an occupational illness may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in California. Most workers may be aware that workers’ compensation protections are available for victims of workplace accidents. But fewer workers may understand that the program is also an important resource for those who suffer a serious work-related illness.

Source: Sierra Sun Times, “Cal/OSHA Reminds Employers of Risks of Valley Fever, Urges Employers to Take Preventative Measures," Nov. 1, 2013

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