6th SLO County resident dies of valley fever in 2017

For the sixth time in 2017, a San Luis Obispo County resident has died of valley fever, according to the county’s public health department.

The latest person to die of the disease was a man who lived south of the Cuesta Grade. Officials have not disclosed his identity. He died in late November, whereas the first five valley fever deaths in SLO County in 2017 occurred in the first five months of the year.

Ann McDowell, a county epidemiologist, said the man had comorbid conditions, which could have made him more susceptible to valley fever.

Valley fever is a disease spread by a fungus that grows naturally in portions of Arizona and California. In the past, most cases of Valley Fever were found in the Central Valley. Now, San Luis Obispo County is becoming a hot spot.

There have been more than 200 cases of valley fever in SLO County thus far this year. The number is expected to exceed last year’s total of 260 by year’s end. Last year, the county had five deaths due to valley fever.

In 2015, there were just 53 cases of the disease reported in SLO County.

During a drought, the fungus is not as active as it is during wet years. Valley fever infections surge in the late summer and fall, McDowell has said.

Most people who breathe in the spores develop no symptoms at all. Others, about 40 percent, develop flu-like symptoms, including cough, congestion, fever, fatigue, body aches and headaches that can last a month or more. Valley Fever can lead to severe pneumonia, meningitis and death.

The Mayo Clinic advises people in areas with the spores to be aware of the symptoms. With treatment upon first sign of symptoms, most people will recover without problems.