What is Valley Fever?
Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is a severe lung infection that is caused by the fungus Coccidioides. People get the disease when they inhale Coccidioides fungal spores. Fortunately, Valley Fever is not contagious and can't be spread from person to person.
Coccidioides grow in the soil in the Southwestern United States, parts of Washington State, and Central and South America. Valley Fever is named after the San Joaquin Valley in California, where it was first discovered.
Valley Fever Symptoms
Valley fever is the earliest stage of a Coccidioides infection. At this stage, the condition often has no symptoms or flu-like symptoms, but it can sometimes progress to more serious stages of coccidioidomycosis.
When symptoms of Valley Fever do present, they may include:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Rash on upper body or legs
How Climate Change Led to an Increase in Valley Fever
Between 1998 and 2015, cases of Valley Fever went up 400%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [3.].
New research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) [4.] identified 1 potential explanation for the dramatic rise in Valley Fever cases – increased dust storms due to climate change.
The NOAA study linked the increase in Valley Fever cases with the surge in dust storms resulting from climate change. The researchers found that the incidents of dust storms have more than doubled in 20 years, increasing from 20 to 48 between 1988 and 2011.
According to NOAA, the number of dust storms has increased due to warmer temperatures and the increasingly drier climate in the Southwest U.S.
Which Jobs Are Most At Risk?
Employees who work outdoors are at a particularly high risk of Valley Fever if they dig or disturb the soil, operate heavy machinery, or work in windy conditions without taking steps to prevent valley fever. High-risk jobs include:
- Agricultural workers
- Archaeological workers
- Construction workers
- Military personnel/trainees
- Wildland firefighters
- Workers in mining, gas, and oil extraction jobs
Related Article: Oil Field Accident Lawsuit Update
Valley Fever Treatment
Most patients with Valley Fever do not require medical intervention, although some doctors may prescribe anti-fungal medications for those with severe symptoms. Sometimes health professionals might not immediately diagnose patients with Valley Fever because its symptoms are so similar to other lung diseases.
This is especially true for patients who traveled to affected regions and later consult with healthcare providers who are less familiar with the disease. Some people have symptoms that persist for months after resolution of the disease, while others may need extended treatment.
How to Prevent Valley Fever in a Work Setting
Recommended controls to avoid the development of Valley Fever in a work setting include:
- Stop working in dust storms or high winds.
- Minimize hand digging; digging with heavy equipment having enclosed, air-conditioned, HEPA-filtered cabs is recommended.
- Continuously wet soil while digging or moving earth.
- Stay upwind of digging, when possible.
Valley Fever Cases on the Rise, May Worsen due to Climate Change: NBS News Video
Caltrans Ordered to Pay $12 Million over Valley Fever Lawsuit
In January 2016, a jury in Solano County, California, awarded 5 construction workers nearly $12 million in a lawsuit that alleged that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) failed to warn them about the risk of Coccidioides fungus at an excavation site, according to the East Bay Times [1.].
The jury found that Caltrans concealed the presence of Coccidioides, which was known to be in the soil where the work was being performed. The crew, which was independently contracted by Caltrans, was moving earth and expanding a culvert in Kern County in 2008 when the plaintiffs contracted valley fever.
Brothers Elvie and Mark Hukill, along with Oscar Villasenor, Jose Hernandez, and Glenn Bugler, sued Caltrans in 2012, claiming that the agency should have warned them about the risks of being exposed to valley fever during their work activities.
Jurors determined that Caltrans executives were aware of the risks of valley fever and that one employee from the agency deliberately intended to deceive the 5 workers about the risks of it.
Related Article: Appalachian Basin Oil Rig Accident Litigation
California Prisoners Who Contracted Valley Fever Petition U.S. Supreme Court for Relief
For years, lawsuits have been piling up against the state of California, filed on behalf of inmates who contracted valley fever while incarcerated in prison. Most plaintiffs have lost. However, in June and July 2018, many of them turned to a higher court for assistance, according to KVPR [2.].
A group of 117 current and former prisoners petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) put them at risk of developing valley fever. The petition requests that the Supreme Court review a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject a previous Valley fever lawsuit.
In 2011, the case rates in Pleasant Valley State Prison and Avenal State Prison were hundreds of times higher than the state average. Over the next decade, dozens of inmates in these penitentiaries died from valley fever, according to the petition.
The lawsuit named 14 defendants, including officials at individual prisons as well as the former head of state prisons and Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of whom the suit alleges failed to protect inmates.
See all related personal injury and accident lawsuits our lawyers have taken on.
Get a Free Valley Fever Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers
The Workplace and Environmental Litigation Group at Schmidt & Clark, LLP law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in Valley Fever Lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting lawsuits in all 50 states.
Again, if you or a loved one was diagnosed with valley fever, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a lawsuit, and our lawyers can help you receive fair compensation.