Editor’s Note: This story is part of Just One Breath an initiative on valley fever from reporters with The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
By Kellie Schmitt, Rebecca Plevin and Tracy Wood
A man struggles through heavy winds and dust blowing in downtown Fresno. (Craig Kohlruss: FresnoBee)
Valley fever starts with the simple act of breathing.
The fungal spores, lifted from the dry dirt by the wind, pass through your nostrils or down your throat, so tiny they don’t even trigger a cough. They lodge in your lungs. If you’re fortunate – and most people are – they go no further.
But if you are one of the more than 150,000 people stricken with coccidioidomycosis every year nationwide, it’s because the spores have sent roots into the moist tissue of your lungs.
They start to feed, and, over time, they can rob you of your health. In serious cases, your muscles waste away. Your bones become brittle. Pustules appear on your arms, neck and face and then erupt.
“Valley fever is not occurring in D.C., it’s not occurring in Atlanta, and it’s not occurring in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s invisible to the most important policymakers when it comes to health funding.
Once the fungus takes root, it never leaves you. In about 100 cases every year nationally the fever kills. That’s more deaths than those caused by hantavirus, whooping cough, and salmonella poisoning combined, yet all of these conditions receive far more attention from public health officials and are more widely known.
As horrible as the disease can be, people in Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Stockton and other parts of California’s San Joaquín Valley have come to accept it as a way of life. Everyone knows somebody who has had valley fever, and most have survived. Continue reading