Assemblymember Salas Introduces Valley Fever Legislative Package

Monday, January 8, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Today, Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) introduced a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at combating valley fever.  Assembly Bills (AB) 1787, 1788, 1789, and 1790 are a strategic and targeted approach to tackle the disease from various angles, including doctor training, strengthening worker protections, and streamlining the reporting and confirming of valley fever cases.  

“Valley fever has had – and continues to have – an incredibly devastating impact on so many families and people in California, it is tragically underdiagnosed, and over recent years the rate of infections has spiked alarmingly across the state to a record high,” said Assemblymember Salas.  “The state needs to take strong action protect Californians from Valley fever and must do more to help the thousands of individuals and families already affected by Valley fever.”

Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is a respiratory infection caused by a fungus that lives in the soil.  Valley fever is caused by breathing tiny fungal spores found in the soil in dry, dusty areas throughout California and the Southwest.  It spreads through the air when soil is disturbed and can be carried for hundreds of miles.  The most severe cases affect the bones, skin, eyes, and even the brain.  In some cases it can be fatal. The symptoms of Valley fever can be similar to those of other common illnesses such as the common cold and flu, so patients may have delays in getting diagnosed and treated.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has labeled Valley fever a “silent epidemic,” it is estimated that 150,000 cases go undiagnosed every year in the United States.  Some experts estimate that the number of cases that go undiagnosed may be even higher.   

In 2016, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported 5,372 confirmed cases of Valley fever in California, which was the highest total number of recorded since the state began reporting in 1995.  The total number of confirmed cases for 2017 has not yet been released, but the provisional numbers recently released by CDPH indicate that the total this year could be even higher.  For 2017, CDPH reported 7,471 provisional cases, which includes suspected and probable cases along with confirmed cases.  By comparison, in 2016 there were 5,417 provisional cases initially reported.  Furthermore, the total number of cases over the last four years – including 2017 – has drastically increased each year and has more than doubled over the same time period.  San Luis Obispo County has had six residents die from Valley fever in 2017.

“Assemblymember Salas introduced a legislative package that represents the most robust effort in California history to address Valley fever,” said Rob Purdie, president of the nonprofit Valley Fever Americas Foundation. “As a survivor of Valley fever, I am really excited and encouraged to see this Valley fever package rolled out.”

The bill package is a bi-partisan effort that has gained solidarity among Democrats and Republicans representing the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to legislation, Salas is circulating a budget proposal to appropriate funds for outreach and research as it relates to Valley fever. 

The package addresses multiple aspects of Valley fever:

AB 1787: Annual Reporting Deadline

This bill would set an annual reporting deadline of March 1st for local health officers to report to CDPH all cases of Valley fever.  Currently, there is not an established annual deadline.   

AB 1788: Laboratory Testing Diagnosis

This bill authorizes CDPH to confirm cases of Valley fever through laboratory testing alone, without the need for costly clinical criteria.  Currently, the state requires both the laboratory component and clinical criteria for diagnosis.

AB 1789: Worker Safety

This bill will strengthen protections for workers by requiring the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to adopt occupational safety and health standards for all state public works projects to prevent and control Valley fever.  Workers are particularly at risk due to the nature of new construction projects that require the disruption of soil.

AB 1790: Physician Training

This bill establishes enhanced physician training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Valley fever to increase accurate diagnoses, reduce delays, and improve treatment for patients suffering from infection.

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Assemblymember Salas represents part of the City of Bakersfield, the cities of Arvin, Avenal, Corcoran, Delano, Hanford, Lemoore, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, and the communities of Armona, Buttonwillow, Home Garden, Kettleman City, Lamont, Lost Hills, Stratford and Weedpatch.