Valley Fever Awareness: Outdoor Workers at Risk

Tractor creating dust
Disturbing the soil, as occurs in farming, is a risk factor for being exposed to the spores that cause Valley Fever illness.

People who work outdoors in California’s Central Valley and other locations, especially workers who dig or disturb soil, like agricultural workers, are at risk for Valley Fever. Valley Fever (also called coccidioidomycosis) is caused by inhaling fungal spores found in the soil in certain parts of California. It is a serious illness that can cause disability or even death. Dr. Stephen McCurdy, Outreach Director of the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, has an ongoing investigation on Valley Fever among California Hispanic farmworkers.

The Occupational Health Branch (OHB) of the California Department of Public Health investigates cases of Valley Fever linked to California worksites and offers technical assistance and education. OHB has updated its free online CME course on work-related coccidioidomycosis for health care providers. The course gives up-to-date statistics on cases in the U.S., provides information to assist providers in diagnosing and treating the illness, and includes recent scientific studies on coccidioidomycosis in the workplace.

Employers in affected areas can take steps to protect workers from breathing in the fungal spores that cause Valley Fever. These include controlling dust, providing worker training, and suspending outdoor work during heavy winds. New findings on Valley Fever prevention are highlighted in the recently published journal article, Dust Exposure and Coccidioidomycosis Prevention Among Solar Power Farm Construction Workers in California, that describes the study of a 2011 to 2014 Valley Fever outbreak among workers constructing two solar farms in California.

 

This article was originally posted by the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health in the July 2017 issue of Occupational Health Watch.

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