Nearly one-third of nation’s Valley Fever cases are in the Central Valley. What you should know about the fungal disease, and how to stay safe.

August 4, 2021 | 6:00 am


About 10,000 cases of Valley Fever are reported every year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with about 30% of cases occurring in the Central Valley.

So it’s no wonder that Kern County has been at the forefront of treatment, research, and prevention efforts of Valley Fever over the years. And it’s the reason Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield has introduced a resolution declaring August 2021 as Valley Fever Awareness Month. The resolution is co-authored with Assemblyman Rudy Salas (Bakersfield), Senator Melissa Hurtado (Sanger), and Senator Shannon Grove (Bakersfield).

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, too, would like to warn local residents about Valley Fever, a respiratory disease caused by breathing in a desert fungus that grows in soil and spreads airborne from soil disruption or wind. Here’s what you need to know about Valley Fever, whose most at risk, what you can do to prevent the spread, and what to do if you or your loved ones are affected, especially while working.

 

WHAT IS VALLEY FEVER?

Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungal spore that is found in soils in the southwest United States, and in some areas of Central and South America. People get infected by breathing in spores contained in dust that gets into the air when it’s windy or when the soil is disturbed during activities such as digging, gardening and construction.

In many cases, Valley Fever does not make people ill, but some get flu-like symptoms that can last a month or more. Most who have flu symptoms recover fully, but others can develop severe disease, including pneumonia and infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin and other organs. Anyone who thinks they might have Valley Fever should see a doctor. A blood test can determine the disease, and doctors should be suspicious of Valley Fever in patients who live in the valley or have traveled through the area who have a cough that doesn’t go away after more than several weeks.

Valley Fever does not spread from person to person, and many people who are exposed to the fungus never have symptoms. Other people may have flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, and rashes on the upper body or legs. Serious illness can occur, resulting in hospitalization, long-term disability, or even death.

Healthcare providers prescribe antifungal medication for some people to try to reduce symptoms or prevent the infection from getting worse. People who have severe lung infections or infections that have spread to other parts of the body always need antifungal treatment and may need to stay in the hospital.

 

KERN COUNTY AT RISK

Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where the fungus lives in the environment can get Valley Fever, and it can affect people of any age, but it’s most common in adults age 60 and older. Additionally, certain groups of people may be at higher risk for developing the severe forms of Valley Fever, such as people who have weakened immune systems, as well as pregnant women, people who have diabetes, and people who are black or Filipino. Central Valley prison inmates have also been infected by Valley Fever at epidemic rates, contributing significantly to the state’s prison healthcare costs, and resulting in inmate deaths.

The best way to reduce the risk of Valley fever is to avoid breathing dust by:

  • Minimize soil disturbance.
  • Stay indoors on dusty days.
  • Roll up windows in cars and use recirculating air conditioning when driving through dusty areas.
  • If outdoors in dusty areas, consider wearing a mask or respirator.

In areas where Valley Fever is common, like Kern County, it’s difficult to completely avoid exposure to the fungus because it is in the environment. And there is no vaccine to prevent infection. That’s why knowing about Valley Fever is one of the most important ways to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment. People who have Valley Fever symptoms and live in or have visited an area where the fungus is common should ask their doctor to test them for Valley Fever. Healthcare providers should be aware that Valley Fever symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and should consider testing in patients with flu-like symptoms who live in or have traveled to an area where Coccidioides lives.

Recently, health officials said one way to protect yourself against Valley Fever is by wearing something that most people are accustomed to wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic — a mask, particularly an N95 mask.

 

WORK SAFETY

Employers in affected areas can take steps to protect workers from breathing in the fungal spores that cause Valley Fever. These include controlling dust, providing worker training, and suspending outdoor work during heavy winds.

It’s important for employers of outdoor workers to post resources for preventing work-related Valley Fever. Each year, more than 1,000 Californians receive hospital treatment for Valley Fever, and about eight of every 100 people hospitalized die from the infection annually.

Workers who dig or otherwise disturb soil containing the fungus are at risk for getting the illness. The fungus lives in the soil in parts of California, particularly the Central Valley. When people inhale the fungal spores released when the soil is disturbed, they may get Valley Fever.

Some workers at higher risk for Valley Fever include wildland firefighters, construction workers, archaeologists, military personnel, and workers in mining, gas, and oil extraction jobs.

Here are some steps employers and employees can take to prevent the spread of Valley Fever:

  • Determine if your worksite is in an endemic area.
  • Adopt site plans and work practices that reduce workers’ exposure, which may include minimizing the area of soil disturbed; using water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust; stabilizing all spoils piles by tarping or other methods; providing air conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate heavy dust and make sure workers keep windows and vents closed; suspending work during heavy winds; placing any onsite sleeping quarters, if provided, away from sources of dust.
  • Employers must develop and implement a respiratory protection program in accordance with Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard.
  • Take measures to reduce transporting spores offsite, such as cleaning tools, equipment, and vehicles before transporting offsite; providing coveralls and change rooms, and showers where possible if workers’ clothing is likely to be heavily contaminated with dust.
  • Train workers and supervisors about the risk of Valley Fever, the work activities that may increase the risk, and the measures used onsite to reduce exposure. Also train on how to recognize Valley Fever symptoms.
  • Encourage workers to report Valley Fever symptoms promptly to a supervisor.

 

HELP AVAILABLE

Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical aims is to increase education and awareness for the public, patients and health care providers, and provide the patient care and promote research that includes epidemiology, clinical drug development, prevention, immunology and immunizations. Chain | Cohn | Stiles in years past has joined the Valley Fever Institute at the annual Valley Fever Walk aimed at raising awareness of Valley Fever.

The Valley Fever Americas Foundation aims to promote awareness and raise funds to support promising academic and medical research on the fungus which causes Valley Fever, in efforts to produce a vaccine or a cure. There is currently no cure for the disease.

“Understanding the conditions in which Valley Fever is most likely to be contracted can prevent further suffering and loss throughout our community, and being familiar with its symptoms empowers victims of this disease to be diagnosed early and increase their chances of making a full recovery,” according to the foundation.

More resources on Valley Fever can be found at the Valley Fever Institute and Valley Fever Americas Foundation.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

And if you or someone you know contracts Valley Fever at work, contact the Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Coronavirus and the workplace: Benefits available to help impacted workers in California

March 18, 2020 | 6:00 am


The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak continues to affect all aspects of everyday life in our country, including workplaces.

Businesses across the United States have temporarily closed or asked employees to work from home to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. In Kern County, many are still being asked to go to work, while other workers are having to choose between staying home or going to work to get a pay check.

But what if you become ill or contract coronavirus due to work conditions? What benefits are available should you be out of work from illness associated with the virus?

Read below to learn what responsibility employers have to keep workers safe, benefits available to workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and steps you can take in the case you contract coronavirus from work.

 

Employer responsibility 

Workplace safety and health regulations in California require employers to protect workers exposed to airborne infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. Cal/OSHA has posted guidance to help employers comply with these safety requirements and to provide workers information on how to protect themselves.

Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (Section 5199) also requires protection for employees working at health care facilities, and other services and operations, including:

  • Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, medical offices, outpatient medical facilities, home health care, long-term health care facilities, hospices, medical outreach services, medical transport and emergency medical services.
  • Certain laboratories, public health services and police services that are reasonably anticipated to expose employees to an aerosol transmissible disease.
  • Correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and drug treatment programs.

To protect workers and prevent exposure to viruses, employers must develop and maintain the required programs and plans for their facility or operation. More resources from Cal/OSHA to protect workers can be found by clicking here.

 

Coronavirus and workers’ compensation 

The workers’ compensation system in California is a no-fault system, meaning that an employee claiming a work-related injury does not need to prove negligence on the part of the employer. Instead, the employee need only prove that the injury occurred at work and was proximately caused by their employment.

But since the virus is not an “injury” per say, it is categorized as an “occupational disease.” To be an occupational disease, an employee must generally show two things:

  • The illness or disease must be “occupational,” meaning that it arose out of and was in the course of employment.
  • The illness or disease must arise out of, or be caused by, conditions peculiar to the work and creates a risk of contracting the disease in a greater degree and in a different manner than in the public generally.

Special consideration is given to health care workers and first responders, as these employees will likely enjoy a presumption that any communicable disease was contracted as the result of employment. This would also include nurses and physicians who are exposed to the virus while at the worksite.

For other categories of employees, benefits for a workers’ compensation claim will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The key point will be whether the employee contracted the virus at work and whether the contraction of the disease was “peculiar” to their employment. Even if the employer takes all of the right steps to protect the employees from exposure, a benefits claim may be determined where the worker can show that they contracted the virus after an exposure, the exposure was distinctive to the work, and there are no alternative means of exposure demonstrated.

As of now, an employee seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a coronavirus infection will have to provide medical evidence to support the claim.

Finally, states are taking action on this specific issue. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries changed its policies for health care workers and first responders to “provide benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job.” Other states may follow.

Update: On May 6, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order made it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensations benefits. The order streamlined workers’ compensation claims and established a rebuttable presumption that any essential workers infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job. In effect, the change shifts the burden of proof that typically falls on workers and instead requires companies or insurers to prove that the employees didn’t get sick at work.The change covers claims filed for 60 days from the May 6 announcement and is retroactive to claims filed as early as March 19. The new rules apply to workers who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of performing work, or those who received a diagnosis within 14 days that was confirmed by a positive test no more than 30 days later. Employers have 30 days to rebut a claim.

 

Benefits available to infected workers

As discussed, if you are unable to do your usual job because you were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 during the regular course of your work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Those benefits include temporary disability (TD) payments, which begin when your doctor says you can’t do your usual work for more than three days or you are hospitalized overnight, according to California’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency. You may be entitled to TD for up to 104 weeks. Those disability payments stops when either you return to work, your doctor releases you for work, or your doctor says your illness has improved as much as it’s going to. This generally pays two-thirds of the gross wages you lose while you are recovering from a work-related illness or injury, up to maximum weekly amount set by law.

In addition, eligible employees are entitled to medical treatment and additional payments if a doctor determines you suffered a permanent disability because of the illness.

 

Other work benefits 

If you get sick or are quarantined, here’s what you can do: First, California’s paid sick leave law provides time off to many workers. You are entitled to use whatever sick leave you have accumulated. But in the event of a particularly long illness, you may be eligible for disability benefits, provided your illness is certified by a medical professional.

California’s Employment Development Department will now waive the one-week waiting period for people who are disabled as a result of COVID-19, according to an executive order. The Employment Development Department also provides a variety of support services to individuals affected.

  • Caregiving: If you are unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.
  • Childcare: If you have child care concerns as a result of coronavirus, the California EDD says you may be eligible for benefits. If your child’s school is closed, and you have to miss work to be there for them, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits. Eligibility considerations include if you have no other care options and if you are unable to continue working your normal hours remotely. File an Unemployment Insurance claim and our EDD representatives will decide if you are eligible.
  • Reduced Hours: If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.
  • Exposed to Coronavirus: If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.

 

Message to our clients

Like all of you, we continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, and especially in our own community.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles remains dedicated to helping injured clients from throughout Kern County.

Our law firm prides itself on giving people direct access to the attorneys and staff who are working on their cases, and this will continue. Should you need to speak with our attorneys for any reason, we are available any time by phone, email, and chat on our website.

As for those who we’re currently helping with cases, we are still here for you. We ask that you call or email us with any questions you may have on your case. If we can respond to your questions or concerns over the telephone, or by way of email, we will make every effort to do so. In accordance with CDC recommendation we are trying to minimize in-person meetings, when possible. However, should you desire to meet with your attorney or other staff member in person, we will make every effort to accommodate that meeting.

As always, you can reach out to us at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the meantime, please take care of yourself and your family.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, contract an illness at work, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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