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Communicating Risk for a Climate-Sensitive Disease: A Case Study of Valley Fever in Central California.


Valley Fever, or Coccidioidomycosis, a fungal respiratory disease, is prevalent with increasing incidence in the Southwestern United States, especially in the central region of California. Public health agencies in the region do not have a consistent strategy for communication and health promotion targeting vulnerable communities about this climate-sensitive disease. We used the behavior adaptation communication model to design and conduct semi-structured interviews with representatives of public health agencies in five California counties: Fresno, Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, and Tulare County. While none of the agencies currently include climate change information into their Valley Fever risk messaging, the agencies discuss future communication methods similar to other health risk factors such as poor air quality days and influenza virus season. For political reasons, some public health agencies deliberately avoided the use of climate change language in communicating health risk factors to farmers who are particularly vulnerable to soil and dust-borne fungal spores. The effectiveness of health communication activities of the public health agencies has not been measured in reducing the prevalence of Valley Fever in impacted communities. Given the transboundary nature of climate influence on Valley Fever risk, a concerted and consistent health communication strategy is expected to be more effective than current practices.

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