What you need to know about Valley Fever in Kern County

August 21, 2019 | 6:00 am


Last year, California experienced 2,200 new cases of Valley Fever, and most were reported in the southern Central Valley regions of Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties. In fact, Kern County residents were affected the most with 890 cases. In all, about 30 percent of all Valley Fever cases nationwide occur in the Central Valley each year.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles along with California health officials are warning people about Valley Fever, not only for Valley Fever Awareness Month, but year-round. Breathing the Central Valley’s dusty air can put you at risk for this potentially fatal disease. 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.

 

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.

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 N95 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.

 

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 recently 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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MORE INFORMATION

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If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work condition, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Working outside? How to stay safe in the summer heat, and identify heat illness

July 27, 2016 | 6:00 am


It’s summer time in Kern County and the temperatures aren’t going down anytime soon.

Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants to remind everyone enjoying the outdoors to take proper precautions to beat the heat, especially those working in the outdoors. Each year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some even die. In 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job, according to U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

These illnesses and deaths are preventable. Please take note of these safety measures for staying safe in the summer heat:

 

Protect Yourself

Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer. Here’s how to block those harmful rays while working:

  • Dress appropriately for the heat: Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants to cover as much skin as possible in order to prevent sunburn.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Wear UV-absorbent sunglasses.
  • Limit exposure: UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

 

Hydrate 

It is important to drink plenty of water. The National Institute of Medicine recommends men drink approximately 3 liters of water, and women to drink 2 liters of water per day.

If working in the outdoor heat, drink a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you are not thirsty. During prolonged sweating lasting several hours, drink sports drinks containing balanced electrolytes. Avoid alcohol and drinks with high caffeine or sugar.

 

Rest

Rest in the shade to cool down, and keep an eye on fellow workers. Employers should ensure and encourage workers to take appropriate rest breaks to cool down and hydrate.

Shorten work periods and increase rest periods as temperature, humidity, and sunshine increase, when there is no air movement, if protective clothing or equipment is worn, or for heavier work.

 

Learn the Signs

It’s important to know and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness. There are different types of heat-related illnesses, ranging from those that cause temporary discomfort to the generally fatal condition known as heat stroke.

  • Heat Stroke: A serious, life-threatening condition that occurs when the body loses its ability to control its temperature. In heat stroke, a person develops a fever that rapidly rises to dangerous levels within minutes. A person with heat stroke usually has a body temperature above 104 degrees, but the temperature may rise even higher. Other symptoms and signs of heat stroke may include confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, feeling faint, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, and lack of sweating. Delirium or coma can also result from heat stroke.
  • Heat exhaustion: A warning that the body is getting too hot. Those most prone to heat exhaustion include elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment. A person with heat exhaustion may be thirsty, giddy, weak, uncoordinated, nauseous, and sweating profusely. As with heat syncope and heat cramps, the body temperature is usually normal in heat exhaustion. The heart rate (pulse rate) is normal or elevated. The skin is usually cold and clammy.
  • Heat cramps: A person who has been exercising or participating in other types of strenuous activity in the heat may develop painful muscle spasms in the arms, legs, or abdomen referred to as heat cramps. The body temperature is usually normal, and the skin will feel moist and cool, but sweaty.
  • Heat syncope: Someone who experiences heat syncope (fainting) will experience the sudden onset of dizziness or fainting after exposure to high temperatures, particularly after exercising in the heat. As with heat cramps, the skin is pale and sweaty but remains cool. The pulse may be weakened, and the heart rate is usually rapid. Body temperature is normal.
  • Dehydration: There are three stages of dehydration. Symptoms may include dry mouth, dry skin, and headache. Severe dehydration symptoms include extreme thirst, irritability and confusion.
  • Sunburn: Sunburns can cause the skin to become red and swollen. Sunburns can be a risk factor for skin cancer and sun damage. Heat rash, on the other hand, is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a heat-related illness, do the following:

  • Call 9-1-1.
  • Seek shelter from the sun.
  • Apply water on the person.
  • Apply ice on the person’s neck or areas where large blood vessels are near the surface.
  • Remove any heavy clothing.

 

Employer Responsibilities 

Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

— By Evelyn Andrade for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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If you or someone you know if injured at work, please call the workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com. Workers’ compensation lawyers James Yoro and Beatriz Trejo can help.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the values of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Failing workers’ compensation system ‘adding inequality to injury’

March 10, 2015 | 10:25 am


Note: The following article was written by Chain | Cohn | Stiles senior partner James A. Yoro, who manages the Bakersfield-based law firm’s Workers’ Compensation* Department, for publication into The Bakersfield Californian’s “Community Voices” section. You can the full article in the Kern County Journal here

By James A. Yoro

One of the most important protections that employees have is a workers’ compensation system that is supposed to provide them with minimum necessary benefits when they suffer an injury on the job.

This system was predicated on a “Grand Bargain” that was initiated during the Industrial Revolution to deal with the rising tide of work-related injuries and death. The injured worker gave up the right to sue the employer for civil damages. In exchange, the employee would receive medical treatment and a sufficient amount of monetary benefits to help them get by during their recovery period. If their injuries caused some permanent limitation or restriction on their ability to function, additional benefits were paid to reflect their level of disability. If they were unable to return to their usual and customary job, they would be provided retraining to help them adjust to other more suitable employment within their limitations.

Workers’ compensation was a progressive idea that came to fruition at a time when we as a society recognized that it was not fair to treat injured workers as if they were nothing more than a piece of broken machinery – something to be discarded and replaced. Human capital is a valuable commodity that contributes to the success of our economy. Therefore, when workers get injured, they should be helped and cared for and not marginalized. Originally, this was the goal of the Workers’ Compensation system. At the beginning of the 20th century, all 50 states adopted such a system in accordance with this philosophy.

But in the last 15 years, things have gone horribly awry for the injured worker.

Within the last week, two investigative reports and several news articles – including by OSHA and the U.S. Department of Labor, National Public Radio and The Washington Post – reveal how poorly injured workers are now being treated in the Workers’ Compensation system and the effect this cost shifting of the burden has affected our economy and our society.

The Department of Labor report titled, “Adding inequality to injury: The costs of failing to protect workers on the job,” summarized its findings as follows:

“The costs of workplace injuries are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported components of the social safety net. Changes in state based workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the full benefits (including adequate wage replacement payments and coverage for medical expenses) to which they are entitled. Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20 percent) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation. This cost-shift has forced injured workers, their families and taxpayers to subsidize the vast majority of the lost income and medical care costs generated by these conditions.”

The study concluded that the “failure of many employers to prevent millions of work injuries and illnesses each year, and the failure of the broken workers’ compensation system to ensure that workers do not bear the costs of their injuries and illnesses, are truly adding inequality to injury.”

I have represented injured workers for more than 25 years and I’ve seen firsthand this slow deterioration in the system and how it has affected those most vulnerable in our society – the injured, the handicapped and disabled – in their struggle to obtain the benefits they deserve and achieve some measure of dignity. At times, my level of frustration is overwhelming as I gaze into the eyes of my clients and see the look of quiet desperation in their eyes as they struggle to avoid near poverty, bankruptcy and sometimes divorce simply because they got injured on the job.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

If this is the measure for progress then the workers’ compensation system is in a period of regression. The “Grand Bargain” is no longer a bargain.

– James A. Yoro is a certified workers’ compensation attorney with nearly 40 years of legal experience, and partner at the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

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Learn more about the recent reports on the workers’ compensation system:

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If you’ve been hurt while on the job, contact the Bakersfield workers’ compensation attorneys at 661-323-4000. Also, visit Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ specialized workers’ compensation website — for frequently asked questions and answers, and other information — by clicking here.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the values of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.