First responders deal with the risk of illness and other undisclosed dangers while doing routine parts of their duties. For example, they face the risk of illness from Valley Fever in California. They may be entitled to workers’ compensation for this fever if their illness was work related.
Valley Fever is caused by a microscopic fungus comprised of coccidioides spores which is in the top two to 12 inches of soil in many parts of California. These spores are most prevalent in the soil in the Central Valley. But there has been a high number reported in other areas such as San Luis Obispo and other areas in southern California. No preventive vaccine currently exists.
These fungal spores become airborne when soil is disturbed from digging, driving, or high winds. Workers may have an increased risk of exposure and infection when doing work at these sites, being exposed to dusts conditions and wind-blown dusts. Firefighters, military personnel, construction workers, road builders and excavation crews are among the workers that face higher exposure.
Approximately 60 percent of people with infections display no symptoms of this fever which usually infects the lungs. When symptoms are displayed, these include fatigue, cough, chest pain, fever, rash on upper body or legs, headaches, aches in muscles or joints, night sweats and unexplained weight loss. In rare cases that may be serious and even fatal, the fever can spread to other body parts and infect the brain, joints bone, skin or other organs.
Employers should send workers who report symptoms to a workers’ compensation healthcare provider or an occupational medicine clinic. These facilities must have staff who know how to treat this illness. Employers should alert health care providers that the employee had possible exposure to dust containing coccidioides spores.
Health care workers must submit reports on each employee that was evaluated for work-related Valley Fever. Employers are also required to immediately report any serious injury, illness or death from this illness to Cal/OSHA.
First-responders and other public sector employees should assure that they comply with the procedures for seeking compensation for their illnesses or injuries. An attorney can help them pursue their claims.