Valley Fever

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CDC: California Inmates Should Be Tested for Valley Fever Immunity

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga in the Central Valley, where inmates have been hit hard by Valley Fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison near Coalinga, one of two Central Valley prisons where inmates are at high risk from Valley fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

By April Laissle

Federal health officials say the state must take steps to reduce the outbreaks of Valley fever at its prisons. Their recommendations come after 30 inmates in California died from the illness since 2008.

The fungal infection is caused by spores in the soil and can cause fever, chest pain and swelling. Two Central Valley prisons, Avenal and Pleasant Valley, have had especially high rates of the disease. Last year, California officials agreed to transfer high-risk inmates from the two prisons.

Now, experts from the Centers for Disease Control suggest new inmates should be tested for immunity. They say susceptible inmates should not sent to the two Central Valley prisons. Continue reading

Federal Health Officials to Launch Study of Valley Fever

A bull kicks up dust on a farm south of Bakersfield. Valley fever spores are carried by the wind in the dry, desert southwest, including California's Central Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A bull kicks up dust on a farm south of Bakersfield. Valley fever spores are carried by the wind in the dry, desert southwest, including California’s Central Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By Rachel Cook, Reporting on Health Collaborative

The leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health announced they will launch a clinical trial to get a better understanding of how to treat valley fever. The announcement was made Monday as part of a two-day symposium on valley fever being held in Bakersfield.

The randomized control trial will cost millions of dollars and involve roughly 1,000 patients, and it could help determine the best practices for treating the fungal infection.

“It will take some time to mount this trial, to plan it, to put it forward,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH. “But I just want to assure all of you from this part of California that we’re serious about trying to get some of those answers even in the face of difficult budget times,” Collins said.

California’s San Joaquin Valley is a valley fever hot spot.

“What we’ve seen is a steady increase in the number of diagnosed cases of valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “We don’t know why that’s happened and there’s a lot that we need to learn.”

Continue reading

Valley Fever Hospitalizations Increase Dramatically in California

Fungal spores that cause valley fever are carried in the dust. Activities including farming in the Central Valley contribute to the spread of the spores. (Robin Beck/Getty Images)

Fungal spores that cause valley fever are carried in the dust. Activities including farming in the Central Valley contribute to the spread of the spores. (Robin Beck/Getty Images)

(AP) – The annual rate of hospitalizations for valley fever, a potentially lethal but often misdiagnosed disease, has doubled over the past 12 years in California, according to a study published on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California’s rates of reported fever cases increased by more than six-fold over the past decade. 
The fever — which is caused by a fungus found in soil and can be contracted by simply breathing in the spores from dust disturbed by wind or other activity — has cost more than $2 billion in hospital charges over about a decade, the study found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the California Department of Public Health, was published in the October 2013 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s monthly peer-reviewed public health journal.

Valley fever is prevalent in arid regions of the U.S., especially in California and Arizona, as well as in Mexico, Central and South America. It is not spread person-to-person. Continue reading

State to Transfer Inmates from Prisons Plagued by Valley Fever

By Julie Small, KPCC

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga in the Central Valley, where inmates have been hit hard by Valley Fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga in the Central Valley, where inmates have been hit hard by Valley Fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Two Central Valley prisons are plagued with Valley Fever, and now California officials have agreed to transfer thousands of inmates. The action comes a week after a federal court moved to enforce a new prison medical policy. That policy bars the state from housing inmates who are susceptible to the fungal disease in the prisons where Valley Fever is most prevalent.

Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver in charge of prison medical care, says Pleasant Valley and Avenal State prisons in the Central Valley are the prison system’s hotspots. “The overwhelming majority of cases of people coming down with Valley Fever originate from those two facilities,” Hayhoe said.

Eighteen inmates have died from Valley Fever in the last many months, and hundreds more have suffered from its flu-like symptoms.

Earlier this year the federal receiver directed the state to transfer more than 2,500 inmates at the two prisons who are known to be susceptible to the disease. Those susceptible include medically high-risk inmates, such as people undergoing chemotherapy, and all African-American and Filipino prisoners. “The whole point of our directive was to prevent serious illness and death,” Hayhoe said. Continue reading

Valley Fever Cases Soar in West, Yet ‘Off The Radar’ of East Coast Policymakers

By Rebecca Plevin, NPR

(Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle/Reporting on Health Collaborative)

(Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle/Reporting on Health Collaborative)

When she was just 6, Emily Gorospe became very tired and sick. The spunky girl, now 8, developed a fever that wouldn’t go away, and red blotches appeared across her body.

“She’s got so much energy usually,” says Emily’s mother, Valerie Gorospe. “Just walking from one part of the house … she was drained.” The little girl was also very pale. “She just didn’t look like herself,” Valerie recalls.

Emily, who lives in the Central Valley town of Delano, was eventually diagnosed with valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis. She’s one of an estimated 150,000 people nationwide who get the fungal disease every year. There is no cure and no vaccine.

Valley fever has afflicted about four times more people than West Nile virus, with thousands more going undiagnosed.

Valley fever is well known in the Central Valley and other areas of California and Arizona. Tiny fungal spores live in the soil throughout much of this arid region. When the spores are disturbed, they can be inhaled into the lungs.

James McCarty, the medical director of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital Central California, says most people feel nothing, or experience symptoms similar to the flu. Common symptoms include fever, night sweats, weight loss, chest pain, cough and sometimes skin rashes.

Valley fever can be a very serious disease for some people, McCarty says. It can spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, like the central nervous system, bones or skin. It can be life-altering or even fatal. Continue reading

What Prisons and the Solar Industry Have in Common in California

It's all that land around the prison (Avenal State Prison seen here) that carries a health hazard, the same one that affects solar manufacturers. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

It’s all that land around the prison (Avenal State Prison seen here) that carries a health hazard, the same one that affects solar manufacturers. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Normally, you wouldn’t put “prisons” and “solar” together when thinking about a significant health problem hitting California. But the two prisons in question are in the dry, dusty Central Valley. The solar manufacturing is on huge construction sites in the California desert. Anyone who lives in those areas of California might quickly add these two clues together and come up with an answer:

Valley Fever.

Valley Fever can cause something like a nasty flu, but some people, especially those with compromised immune systems, can die. It is not contagious. Instead the illness spreads when people inhale fungal spores carried in the dirt by the wind.

California’s prison system has been fighting a losing battle with Valley Fever since 2006. In particular, inmates in two prisons along the I-5 corridor are right in harms way. Continue reading

Valley Fever Cases Skyrocketing, Says CDC

BY RACHEL COOKReporting on Health Collaborative

Farming in California's Central Valley is a source of smog, a major contributor to the region's high asthma rates. (Getty Images)

Valley Fever is a disease caused by a fungus found in the soil in certain parts of the southwestern U.S., including California. (Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms in a new research article this week what doctors, epidemiologists and people who suffer from valley fever have experienced first-hand — cases of the fungal disease rose at stunning rates over the last decade, especially in California and Arizona.

The CDC’s analysis addresses the findings reported in Just One Breath, a series of news stories on valley fever by the Reporting on Health Collaborative published in The [Bakersfield] Californian and other outlets. The series chronicled the rise in valley fever cases and deaths and the lack of attention by state and federal policymakers.

“I do think that the reporting series helped to put (valley fever) at the forefront, especially in California,” said Dr. Benjamin Park, medical officer in the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch and the study’s senior author.

The total number of valley fever cases rose by more than 850 percent between 1998 and 2011 in the area where valley fever is most common.
People catch coccidioidomycosis, also known as valley fever, after inhaling fungal spores that are common in the dry parts of the Southwest as well as Mexico and Latin America. Experts say the lack of funding and serious attention to valley fever has stalled efforts to combat the disease.

But valley fever seems to be gaining policy attention. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden recently met to talk about valley fever’s impact in the Southwest. Continue reading

Valley Fever Cases Soar, Harm Remains Hidden

Editor’s Note: This story is part of Just One Breath an initiative on valley fever from reporters with The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. 

By Kellie SchmittRebecca Plevin and Tracy Wood

Dust storm. (Craig Kohlruss: FresnoBee)

A man struggles through heavy winds and dust blowing in downtown Fresno. (Craig Kohlruss: FresnoBee)

Valley fever starts with the simple act of breathing.

The fungal spores, lifted from the dry dirt by the wind, pass through your nostrils or down your throat, so tiny they don’t even trigger a cough. They lodge in your lungs. If you’re fortunate – and most people are – they go no further.

But if you are one of the more than 150,000 people stricken with coccidioidomycosis every year nationwide, it’s because the spores have sent roots into the moist tissue of your lungs.

They start to feed, and, over time, they can rob you of your health. In serious cases, your muscles waste away. Your bones become brittle. Pustules appear on your arms, neck and face and then erupt.

“Valley fever is not occurring in D.C., it’s not occurring in Atlanta, and it’s not occurring in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s invisible to the most important policymakers when it comes to health funding.

Once the fungus takes root, it never leaves you. In about 100 cases every year nationally the fever kills. That’s more deaths than those caused by hantavirus, whooping cough, and salmonella poisoning combined, yet all of these conditions receive far more attention from public health officials and are more widely known.

As horrible as the disease can be, people in Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Stockton and other parts of California’s San Joaquín Valley have come to accept it as a way of life. Everyone knows somebody who has had valley fever, and most have survived. Continue reading