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Valley fever cases are on the rise in San Joaquin County. How to tell if it’s that or COVID

Valley fever infection rates are beginning to rise in San Joaquin County, and a significant spike is being seen in the region “even considering the normally higher rates found in the Central Valley,” according to the county’s public health services.

The average number of Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, cases in San Joaquin County for October was nearly three times the average, according to the department. The 2020-2022 average for October was 11 confirmed cases, and October 2023 saw 31.

“The risk associated with breathing in coccidioidomycosis spores is still not taken as seriously in this region by the general public as we would like to see,” said Dr. Maggie Park, public health officer with San Joaquin County Public Health Services.

“The recently increased soil moisture feeds these fungal spores, and it is something residents should be aware of when outside on windy days.”

Symptoms of Valley fever vs COVID-19

Valley fever shares many of the same symptoms as COVID-19, according to San Joaquin Public Health Services. Only lab tests can definitively distinguish between the two.

Is it COVID-19, the flu, allergies or a regular ol’ cold? Here’s how to tell the difference

Respiratory symptoms of Valley fever can last more than a month, according to the agency. When the fungus infects the lungs, it can cause coughing, fever, chest pain and fatigue.

If you test negative for COVID-19, and have respiratory symptoms that last more than a week, you should consult your doctor and ask to be tested for Valley fever, the agency says.

How do you get Valley fever, and how can you avoid it?

Valley fever is caused by breathing in the microscopic spores of a fungus that grows in soil and dirt, according to San Joaquin County’s news release.

Wind and activities that disturb soil can create dust that may contain the fungal spores, the release said. When the dust gets into the air, the spores can be ingested.

To reduce your risk of getting infected, the agency says to avoid breathing in dust by staying inside and keeping windows and doors closed when it’s windy and dusty.

If available, use recirculating air conditioning when driving and keep your car windows closed.

If you have to be outside in dusty areas, the agency says to consider wearing a properly fitted N-95 mask.

Employers with outdoor workers should take steps to limit workers’ exposure to airborne dust, the release said. This includes watering down soil before digging.

Goggles and masks should be used during off-road recreational activities, according to the agency.

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