Valley fever survivors and advocates gathered Monday night in response to new valley fever data. With a 25 percent rise in local valley fever cases, they say we should all be concerned. 

The Department of Public Health brought bad news to the community Monday. 

“As you can see, over the past 10 years, this is the highest number of cases we’ve seen,” said Kimberly Hernandez, an epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health. 

According to preliminary data, valley fever is up more than 25 percent from 2016 to 2017. And numbers like this are putting people on edge. 

Isabel Cortez is a local valley fever survivor. She says, when she heard the new stats, she was terrified. “I have grandchildren and I’m wondering now how many of my grandchildren are going to get sick and find out down the road it was valley fever and it could have been stopped years ago,” Cortez told 17 News. 

She’s not wrong – the new numbers released Monday are startling. And just about anyone can contract valley fever. In Kern County just last year, nine people died from valley fever and 2,929 new cases were reported.

Manuela Guerra, a CSUB student, said, “My stepfather was recently diagnosed with valley fever and we had no idea what valley fever was.”

Like many people, Guerra and her family heard about valley fever only when it affected them. Otherwise, it’s a largely under-diagnosed and under-discussed disease. That’s why survivors and advocates in our community are working to raise awareness about the disease, now more than ever. 

Survivors like Isabel and Pete Cortez – siblings who both suffer from valley fever.

“Too many people are sick and they don’t even know what they have,” Cortez said. “Pete went through chemotherapy for his valley fever, and it resulted in kidney failure so I donated my kidney to him,” she said of their family’s uphill battle with valley fever. 

With such startling new statistics, Cortez worries for the future of her 14 grandchildren. That’s why she, along with the other valley fever advocates, are working hard to raise money. Money they’ll put toward greater local awareness, new research, and, hopefully, a cure. 

For more information about valley fever, visit the Kern County Public Health Department’s website.