Ten members of a 12-person construction crew excavating a trench developed Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”), an illness with pneumonia and flu-like symptoms. Seven had abnormal chest x-rays, four had rashes, and one had an infection that spread beyond his lungs. The 10 ill crew members missed at least 1660 hours of work; two of the workers were on disability for months.
Some of these workers are counted among the over 1000 Californians that seek hospital care for Valley Fever every year. About eight of every 100 of those hospitalized die from this infection. Yet workplace health and safety plans often do not even mention Valley Fever, despite the fact that it can be disabling or fatal.
The cocci fungus lives in the soil in parts of California, particularly the Central Valley. When people inhale the fungal spores released when the soil is disturbed, they may get this illness.
Workers who disturb soil containing the Coccidioides immitis fungus by digging, driving, or working in dusty, wind-blown areas are at risk for getting Valley Fever. Wildland firefighters, construction workers, archaeologists, military personnel, workers in mining, gas and oil extraction jobs, and other outdoor workers are at higher risk.
Workers can be protected against this disease by the use of dust control measures and appropriate personal protective equipment.
The Occupational Health Branch (OHB) has a new web page to better explain to employers and workers how to prevent getting the illness.