The expansion of the solar energy industry in Coccidioides-endemic areas of the southwestern United States is exposing more workers to the infection, say the authors of a study that found an attack rate of 1.2 cases per 100 workers.
A study among 3,572 workers at two solar power–generating facilities in California identified 44 individuals with the infection between October 2011 and April 2014, 9 of whom were hospitalized, according to a paper published in the Oct. 14 edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The disease is acquired through inhalation of the soil-dwelling Coccidioides fungus spores and while the majority of the patients said they had received safety training about the risk of coccidioidomycosis, only six of those who regularly performed soil-disruptive work reported regularly using respiratory protection (Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Oct 14; doi: ).
“Large-scale construction, including solar farm construction, might involve substantial soil disturbance for months, and many employees, particularly from non–Coccidioides-endemic areas, probably lack immunity to Coccidioides,” wrote Jason A. Wilken, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and his coauthors.
“Medical providers should consider work-related coccidioidomycosis when evaluating construction workers with prolonged febrile respiratory illness, particularly after work in Central or Southern California or in Arizona, and medical providers should follow all statutory requirements for documenting and reporting occupational illness,” Dr. Wilken concluded.
The study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No conflicts of interest were declared.