BY REBECCA PLEVIN Vida en el Valle
Sandra Larson hopes participants in Bakersfield's first Walk for Valley Fever Awareness leave the Saturday morning event with heightened knowledge of the symptoms and risks of the disease, also known as coccidioidomycosis.
"People tend to think of Valley Fever as a myth or a joke," said Larson, the executive director of the Valley Fever Americas Foundation, which is organizing the event. "But the fact is that for the few who have these serious cases, it is really a tough disease."
TELL YOUR VALLEY FEVER STORY
Participants at Saturday's walk will also have the opportunity to record their personal experiences with Valley Fever with Louis Amestoy of The Californian, as part of an upcoming, collaborative project on the disease.
He will be near the registration area from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
This project results from a new venture -- the Reporting On Health collaborative -- that involves The Californian, The Merced Sun-Star, The Record in Stockton, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, the Voice of OC, and ReportingonHealth.org.
The collaborative is an initiative of the Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It is made possible with the generous support of The California Endowment.
"At the same time, we want people to recognize that individual by individual, the risk of serious disease is very low," she continued. "We know there is a risk involved, but we don't expect it to happen it to us. If it does happen, you need to recognize the symptoms and get treatment."
The walk, which will begin at 8 a.m. at the Kern County Museum's Pioneer Village, will be an opportunity for an estimated 200 to 500 walkers to obtain information about disease symptoms. The event will also be a chance for people with the disease to connect and find support.
Registration starts at 7:15 a.m.
Larson said she has wanted to hold a disease awareness walk for many years, and this first one is well-timed. The number of Valley Fever cases statewide has generally increased since 2000, according to preliminary numbers from the California Department of Public Health.
People and animals can contract Valley Fever by breathing in fungus spores that are endemic to Central California, as well as parts of Arizona and New Mexico.
While about 60 percent of people infected with the disease don't realize they have it, others can experience cold- or flu-like symptoms. Some cases require hospitalization, and a small number of cases lead to serious, complicated illness, and even death.
Meanwhile, disease research efforts have struggled to find funding. The Valley Fever Americas Foundation has contributed to these efforts with an annual golf tournament.
The walk is not intended as a fundraiser. Registration fees -- $10 pre-registration, and $15 the day of the event -- will cover the cost of the walk, and remaining funds will go toward awareness activities or research, Larson said.
And the Bakersfield-area doctors who have long studied the disease -- including Dr. Hans Einstein and Dr. Tom Larwood -- are getting older.
"I just wanted them to know that there are others who are very concerned about the disease and will keep pressing for the vaccine," Larson said of the doctors.
During the walk -- the distance is a "your-K," Larson said -- participants can visit information stations, where they can speak with doctors and veterinarians about disease symptoms, learn about local efforts to create a Valley Fever vaccine, and learn about recent disease trends.
People can walk with dogs, who are also susceptible to the disease. Those who lost loved ones to the disease are encouraged to bring a photo or poster to carry along the walk.