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Winds across the county bring risk of valley fever

FILE -- A poor air quality day is seen in Bakersfield, Calif., in a KBAK/KBFX file photo.
FILE -- A poor air quality day is seen in Bakersfield, Calif., in a KBAK/KBFX file photo.
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As the wind rolls through Kern County, health officials warn of the risks that can come with it, such as valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis.

The fungal infection is pretty common in the southwestern United States, including the Central Valley, because of the dry, sandy, hot climate.

The microscopic spores of the fungus Coccidioides live in soil and dirt and are picked up in windy conditions.

"I got these welts on my feet and my legs, and I couldn't walk," said Dorene Rodriguez, who like many others in Kern County has had valley fever. "I was out of work for probably a couple of months."

Dr. Claudia Jonah with Kern County Public Health said although valley fever lives in dirt, there doesn't have to be any dirt in the air for you to contract it.

"Even if it's clear but windy, we also need to take precautions," she said.

Here in Kern County, 500 people are diagnosed, and five die, in a typical year.

During an epidemic year, there are more than 1,500 cases, and the death toll rises to 12.

Valley fever causes flu-like symptoms, but if it becomes severe, Jonah said skin lesions, infections that involve the brain, lungs and spinal cord can also develop.

Jonah said some evidence proves that if you successfully get over the infection, you will have immunity after that. However, taking simple precautions during the windy days can end up saving you a trip to the hospital.

"Riding in your car, put your ventilation on recirculate, so you're not drawing in air from the outside," said Jonah. "lf you have to be outside doing work or activities, where a dust mask."

Jonah also said valley fever can sometimes be mistaken for pneumonia, especially for visitors that aren't from this area.

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If you have symptoms of pneumonia, but aren't getting better with antibiotics, Jonah recommended getting tested for valley fever.

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