A fifth person in the county has died from valley fever since the beginning of the year, the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department confirmed Thursday.
Valley fever is fatal in less than 1 percent of cases, officials said. More than 60 percent of those infected either have no problems or exhibit flu-like symptoms.
Valley fever is caused by a fungus called coccidioidomycosis, or cocci for short. The fungus grows as microscopic spores in the soil. The fungus is endemic, or native, to many areas of the southwestern United States, including San Luis Obispo County.
The infection is contracted by breathing in the fungus spores, which become airborne whenever dirt and soil are stirred up, such as during farming or construction, but could even be contracted by driving down a dusty dirt road. When the rain falls, the fungus starts reproducing and proliferating in the soil. When the soil dries out and gets disturbed, more people inhale the spores, causing more cases of valley fever.