Occupational Health Watch: August 2021
COVID-19 or Valley fever? Get tested to know the difference!
While COVID-19 as a hazard at the workplace has rightly received much-needed attention and visibility, another illness, one that poses increased risk in outdoor work, continues to make workers sick.
People who work outdoors in California's Central Valley, Central Coast, and other locations, especially workers who dig or disturb soil, are at risk for Valley fever, an illness that can cause disability or even death. Cases of Valley fever in California (PDF, 2 MB) have nearly tripled from 2015 to 2019. And, even with the COVID-19 pandemic prompting changes in work practices, jobs, and the economy, we are still seeing very high numbers of people getting sick with Valley fever in 2020 and 2021.
Valley fever and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms, including fever, cough, fatigue, and body aches. If a worker is experiencing these symptoms, they should isolate themselves from others, report it to their employer, and contact a health care provider right away. Laboratory tests are needed to know whether symptoms are caused by COVID-19 or Valley fever. Valley fever is usually diagnosed using a blood test, while the lab test for COVID-19 uses a respiratory sample from the nose or throat.
In cases where a person has recently worked outdoors in an area known to have high rates of Valley fever, their employer should ensure they are seen by an occupational medical provider who is familiar with Valley fever. Employers with jobs in
areas where Valley fever has been reported should include Valley fever in their Injury and Illness Prevention Program,
train workers on Valley fever (PDF), and use measures to prevent worker exposure to dust on the job.