Valley fever may be less of a problem this year, thanks to a Colorado snowpack that is about 50% above average. That’s good news to the construction trade, agriculture and anyone else who comes into contact with soil.
For the uninitiated, valley fever is a sometimes-lethal infection caused by a fungus that lives in the soil. An average of 10,000 cases are reported in the U.S. each year, mostly in the Southwest.
Symptoms of the disease are similar to the flu and include fatigue, shortness of breath and fever. Severe cases can cause serious lung problems and even death.
Valley fever came to mind recently after regulators in California issued health and safety citations to a construction company after two of its employees became ill.
The workers were reportedly exposed to the fungal disease while using hand tools to dig trenches.
“When soil is disturbed by activities such as digging, driving, or high winds, valley fever spores can become airborne and potentially be inhaled,” Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum said in a statement. “Without the proper training, protection and mitigation procedures, workers are likely to be exposed and get sick.”
The workers were digging trenches up to 5½ feet deep for gas pipelines. Cal/OSHA’s investigation found that the construction company did not evaluate the hazard of performing digging work in areas known to contain the Coccidioides fungal spores. The employer did not suppress or control harmful dusts and failed to provide employees with respiratory protection.
Valley fever is at its worst when conditions are dry. It has been on the rise as warming climates and drought kick up the dust that spreads it. At the beginning of this year, much of Colorado was still very much in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. But with the large amounts of snow this winter, a lot of the state is back to normal, hence the more hopeful outlook for this year.
On the other hand, water experts remain worried about the state’s shift to greater aridity and our long-term trend of low water levels.
In other words, wider drought conditions could easily return, and Colorado could soon join the Southwest in seeing a fast-rising number of valley fever cases.
Eric Gabrielsen is a CCIG Insurance Adviser. Let him know if you have questions or concerns. Reach him at Eric.Gabrielsen@thinkccig.com or 720-212-2027.
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