Californians this summer and fall may face an increased risk of Valley fever, a fungal infection that can cause respiratory symptoms like coughing and fatigue, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The CDPH points to dry conditions and heavy winter rains as factors for the risk increase. A recent study from University of California, Berkeley and the CDPH found that the fungus that causes Valley fever can become less active during drought, and more active when rain returns.

Valley fever is caused by breathing in the fungus Coccidioides from dust in outdoor air. It usually affects the lungs and can cause prolonged respiratory symptoms including cough, fever, chest pain and fatigue.

An animation illustrating how Valley fever is transmitted to humans. (via California Department of Public Health)

Most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If infected, people will usually heal on their own within weeks or months. However, some people can develop severe infections and experience serious or long-term problems with their lungs. If not treated, the illness can be life-threatening.

Rates of Valley fever are highest in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions, including Monterey County. Climate change has caused an increase of reported cases in other areas of the state, including northern areas of the San Joaquin Valley, according to the CDPH.

The CDPH encourages people living in higher risk areas to follow tips to help prevent infection:

• Learn about signs, symptoms and ways to reduce risk of infection of Valley fever.

• Stay indoors and keep windows and doors locked when windy outside.

• Wet down soil and dirt before digging to prevent stirring up dust into the air.

• Wear a properly fitted N95 mask if you must be in dusty air outdoors.

Deidre Foley is an intern at Bay City News and an MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she specializes in data journalism and health & science reporting. Previously she was managing editor for the San Francisco Foghorn and has bylines in the NYCity News Service, Byklner and the Nagazasshi. Deidre is interested in using data and visuals to tell social justice and human interest stories.