Central Valley hospital sees rise in valley fever cases

Central Valley hospital sees rise in valley fever cases »Play Video
Valley fever hot spots are seen in a map from the Valley Fever Vaccine Project of the Americas website.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Doctors in the Central Valley say they have seen a significant increase in cases of valley fever.

At Central Valley Children's Hospital in Madera, officials have seen a total of 45 valley fever patients this year.

Eyewitness News went to Kern County's leading doctor in treating the disease to find out if there is a way you can protect you and your family.

"One day, I said, 'Dad, it hurts right here, right here at the collarbone, and he took me down right then," said Paula Einstein, a valley fever survivor.

Einstein got valley fever in the fifth grade. She was diagnosed early because her father is Dr. Hans Einstein, a pioneer in valley fever research.

"I was diagnosed on the first day of the first symptom," said Einstein.

Years later, there is still no cure for the disease, and valley fever isn't going away.

"In calendar 2011, we had 2,700 approximate cases. That was the second-highest year in history," said Dr. Royce Johnson, who specialized in the disease.

The potentially deadly illness is caused by inhaling airborne spores of a dirt-dwelling fungus that is active in the valley. The peak period for contracting the disease is late summer to early fall. However, Children's Hospital Central California reports there seems to be a significant rise in cases this year.

Johnson has treated thousands of valley fever patients in the last 30 years. He said a rainy season followed by a very dry season may be contributing to the high number of recent cases, but pointed out that there is no way to tell for sure. Education and early detection are the only two weapons used in the battle against valley fever, because finding a cure requires a lot of cash. Johnson said it could cost upwards of $1 million to find a cure.

To increase awareness, the Valley Fever Americas Foundation is holding a walk Aug. 11 at the Kern County Museum. Valley fever is a regional problem, the fungus is found primarily in the southwestern states.