The first ever Valley Fever Awareness walk is set for this weekend in downtown Bakersfield. Kern County leads the nation in the number of valley fever cases.
Organizers of the walk want to spread the word on how it's contracted, not only by humans, but also by animals, like Dawn Kurwitz's pet pit bull.
"The vet got on and told me she was gone and...," was all Kurwitz could say before she was overcome with emotion thinking about the dog she lost.
Kurwitz got that call three weeks ago. Her three-year old pit bull, Storm, that she'd raised since a puppy, suddenly wasn't herself.
"You'd call her and she would just walk in circles, walk in circles, and then she started bumping into furniture. I thought well maybe she was hot. She always panted really hard."
Little did Dawn know, those were all signs of Valley Fever. Within an hour Storm collapsed. Dawn rushed her to the vet, but it was too late.
"If I would have known, I probably could have got her medicine and been able to save her," said Kurwitz.
Dr. Paul Ulrich with Bakersfield Veterinary Hospital,l says he sees animals with Valley Fever all of the time.
"They pick it up the same way that we do. So, when it's windy here is when we typically see a lot of exposure," explained Ulrich.
All mammals can become infected just like humans, but Valley Fever cannot be passed from one to another. It's contracted from spores kicked up from dirt that are inhaled into the lungs. Like humans, most animals are immune to it, but if they aren't they will show symptoms.
YouTube has several videos of dogs showing signs of Valley Fever. It creates respiratory problems like coughing, sometimes fever, and lack of appetite. Anti-fungal drugs can cure it, but Valley Fever becomes deadly the longer it goes untreated.
"It can get into your nervous system and you will see neurological signs like that sometimes, absolutely," said Dr. Ulrich.
They are signs Dawn is watching closely for now in her other dog. Both lost a friend in Storm, but Kurwitz gained the knowledge she hopes to pass on to other loving pet owners.
"I just wanted people to know that their animals can have Valley Fever, and I never knew that," said Kurwitz.
The Valley Fever Awareness walk starts at 8:00 a.m. Saturday at the Kern County Museum on Chester Avenue. People and pets are encouraged to come out and learn more about it since 2,700 people were diagnosed with Valley Fever last year alone, which is triple the amount reported in 2009.
Dr. Ulrich says if your pet shows signs of Valley Fever, a blood test will determine if it has it. Valley Fever is more common in dogs than cats.