Kern County public health officials said Wednesday morning there were 2,937 valley fever cases in 2018. That’s a 7% increase from the previous year and the highest amount of cases since 1992.

Valley fever is an illness caused by a fungus that lives in the Central Valley’s soil and dirt, officials said.

According to the state department of public health, 7,500 new cases were reported in 2017, mostly in Central California.

The Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical says 30 percent of new cases each year come from the Central Valley.

People and animals can contract the illness by breathing in the fungus spores. Symptoms of the illness can have fever, cough, chest pain, muscle or joint aches, tiredness, headaches weight loss and rash. In rare cases the illness can lead to death.

Over the years, state legislators and federal representatives have worked to pass legislation to help fund programs to combat the spread of Valley Fever, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy and the Congressional Valley Fever Task Force.

Rep. McCarthy released the following statement:

“The 7% increase in Valley Fever in Kern County is a definite cause for concern, especially as 30% of the new cases annually come from the Central Valley. I remain committed to bringing awareness to Valley Fever through our Congressional Valley Fever Task Force. Just last month, I held a roundtable at the U.S. Capitol with leading researchers and members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical. We must continue working to mitigate this terrible disease from our communities.”