VALLEY FEVER UP SINCE FIRES HIT VENTURA COUNTY 600% INCREASE RECORDED.
Cases of Valley fever, a potentially deadly soil-borne illness, have increased by 600 percent since Ventura County was ravaged by wildfires last fall, a public health official said.
About 14 cases per month have been reported to the county's communicable disease department in recent months, compared to an average of two cases per month before the October fires, said Dr. Robert Levin, the county's top health officer.
At least 70 cases have been reported so far, two-thirds of them in the eastern part of the county, Levin said. < Although the disease can be fatal to about 1 percent of those who contract it, 60 percent of those with Valley fever suffer no symptoms and develop a lifetime immunity to the disease, Levin said.
About 40 percent develop flu-like symptoms and can be treated with antibiotics, he said.
``Most people do not need to worry about it,'' he said.
The spore that causes the respiratory illness was exposed when fire roared through the region five months ago, and frequent Santa Ana winds have launched the exposed soil into the air, Levin said.
San Bernardino and San Diego counties, parts of which were also blackened by fire in October, have shown only a slight increase in Valley fever cases, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Preliminary data for 2004, which shows 16.6 cases per 100,000 residents in Ventura County, indicates 2.5 cases per 100,000 in San Diego County, and 1.07 in San Bernardino County.
This year's data for San Bernardino and San Diego counties shows an increase from the previous year, but is consistent with infection rates for 2002.
The disease, officially known as coccidioidomycosis, is commonly found in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and Central America, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Symptoms include fever, cough, headaches and rashes.
The recent outbreaks in Ventura County are the most serious since soil liquefaction during the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 resulted in 200 to 300 local cases, one of them fatal, Levin said.
Andrea Cavanaugh, (805) 583-7602