Sep 6, 2012 2:40 PM by KSBY News, Carina Corral

Valley fever cases in dogs on the rise since 2003 San Simeon Earthquake

Last week when our series on valley fever aired about a spike in cases locally, KSBY's Carina Corral received a few emails and Facebook messages about how the airborne disease also affects pets. She looked into it and found pets are equally at risk, especially after the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake.

Valley Fever is caused by a spore in the ground native to areas in the southwest, Kern County and the Central Coast. When the soil is disturbed, the spore is released into the air and then inhaled by both humans and animals. Horses can be infected, but the highest number of cases are in dogs. They are especially at risk in the northern portion of San Luis Obispo County.

As was the case for Oliver, a black lab, who for weeks would not eat and would not play fetch. For Olly, this was strange behavior.

"I looked at him and I thought oh my God this is all wrong," said his owner, Joey Conklin.

It was at Atascadero Pet Hospital Joey Conklin finally found out what was wrong.

"It turned out that this shining, beautiful three-and-a-half year old dog was dying of heart failure," she said.

Heart failure brought on by valley fever.

"This is his pericardium which is thickened here all the way around," said Dr. Aaron Schechter, referring to an x-ray of Oliver's heart and pointing to what looks like a thick band around it.

Normally the pericardium, or sac around the heart, is no thicker than two millimeters, "but with his it was more than a centimeter thick all the way around his heart constricting his heart from being able to pump blood," said Dr. Schechter who performed a risky surgery to detach the lining from Oliver's heart.

Doctor and dog now share a special bond as Oliver makes a full recovery; unfortunately, though, Dr. Schechter sees about one to two valley fever patients a month ever since the 2003 San Simeon earthquake.

"With that stirring up the soil and then construction following that with the soil being moved around we had a little housing boom where all this foundation and dirt was being moved around all that releases these arthroconidia into the environment," said Dr. Schechter.

There is no way to avoid the fungal spore, but early detection can help your pets survive it.

"It's about trying to stay on top of it and diagnose it early," he said.

Oliver is back to his old self and now Joey has a message for other dog owners. "They don't have to lose their dogs to this disease, but they do have to watch for certain behaviors."

Fever, cough, and lethargy are all common symptoms in animals.

Valley fever in dogs and humans is treatable with anti-fungal medication.

In severe cases, patients will be on medications for life. The disease can also be fatal.

To learn more about valley fever in humans and how you can help fund a cure, see "related articles" below.

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