Just One Breath

Emily Gorospe uses an inhaler to treat her valley fever with antifungal medication.
Credit Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle / Reporting on Health Collaborative
Credit Designed by ReportingonHealth.org graphic artist, Claudia Delgado

Why are people still dying from Valley Fever and tens of thousands getting sick?      

Misdiagnosis. A lack of public awareness. And a long history of inaction by government agencies. In this occasional series, we will explore the startling rise of cases, the science of studying the disease, the high costs to patients and taxpayers, the weak federal and private interest in funding treatments and vaccines, and the public health response.

The number of valley fever cases has soared so high in recent years that health experts are calling it “The Second Epidemic.” In a continuing series, Valley Public Radio and other members of the new Reporting On Health Collaborative will explore the rise of cases, the tricky science of studying the disease, the high costs to patients and taxpayers, the lack of private interest in funding treatments and vaccines, and the long history of inaction by government agencies. 

This project results from a new venture – the Reporting On Health collaborative – which involves the Bakersfield Californian, the Merced Sun-Star, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, The Record in Stockton, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana and ReportingonHealth.org. The collaborative is an initiative of The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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Valley Edition
7:09 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

On Valley Edition: Valley Fever 'Epidemic'; Inner City Unemployment; Sierra Art Trails

On this Valley Edition, host Juanita Stevenson examines the recent surge in the number of cases of valley fever in the Central Valley, talks about solutions to the problem of inner city unemployment, and looks ahead to the upcoming events of the Sierra Art Trails program in the foothills of central California. 

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Just One Breath
6:03 am
Sun September 9, 2012

When Valley Fever Struck Celebrated Winemaker, Doctors Missed It

Todd and Tammy Schaefer walk through a neighbor’s vineyard with their Old English Mastiff, Daisy Ray. Todd was working in a vineyard when he contracted valley fever.
Laura Dickinson/ Vida en el Valle

Todd and Tammy Schaefer appear the picture of good fortune and good health.

Tall, fit and well dressed, the couple met in Malibu, where they established their wine business. In 2001, they moved to Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, and focused on Pacific Coast Vineyards full-time.

That’s where their long nightmare with valley fever began. Early in October 2003, Todd Schaefer was running a bulldozer that kicked up a thick cloud of dust.

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Just One Breath
6:00 am
Sun September 9, 2012

Changing climate may expand valley fever’s impact

Thomas Mace, senior scientific adviser to NASA, helps Cal State Bakersfield microbiologist Antje Lauer pour a soil sample into a test tube near Bear Valley Springs.
Shelby Mack / The Californian

Valley fever feeds on heat.

And as the average temperature ticks up with each passing decade, experts are concerned that the fungus’ footprint and impact are expanding, as evidenced by a rise in cases in areas far outside the hot spots of the Central Valley of California.

In the soil, the cocci fungus lives on dead organic matter. Less rainfall and higher temperatures reduce overall vegetation, diminishing soil competition for the hardy fungus, scientists say. Cocci spores survive—even thrive—when the environment is drier and hotter since other competitors die off.

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Just One Breath
6:01 am
Sat September 8, 2012

Just One Breath: Valley fever cases reach epidemic levels, but harm remains hidden

Dust storms like this one that blasted Fresno in June can carry millions of spores from the fungus that causes Valley Fever.
Craig Kohlruss The Fresno Bee

This special report is a project of the Reporting On Health Collaborative

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.  

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Just One Breath
6:00 am
Sat September 8, 2012

Valley Fever cases missed because of lack of awareness

A correctional officer watches from a guard tower seen through the razor wire near Kern Valley State Prison in Delano. The extent of valley fever’s under-diagnosis becomes clear when reviewing cases reported by prisons located in the Central Valley.
Casey Christie The Californian

The soaring nationwide figures for valley fever don’t tell the whole story.

Problems with screening for the disease and tracking it over time mean that thousands of cases go undetected and untreated every year, leading experts to believe the second epidemic is likely worse than documented.

Valley fever often goes unrecognized, especially in places where the disease is not widespread. Doctors aren’t familiar with its wide variety of symptoms. Often, the early symptoms of valley fever are similar to those of pneumonia.

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Just One Breath
6:00 am
Sat September 8, 2012

Disease sidetracks girl with dreams of dancing

Emily Gorospe, showing off her dance wardrobe, was forced to leave dance lessons after she was diagnosed with valley fever.
Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle

Very little can stop 7-year-old Emily Gorospe from dancing.

Early this summer, she twirled in her bedroom, holding to her chest her colorful, ruffled dance costumes as if they were her dancing partners.

But last spring, Emily did not have enough energy to dance – let alone walk down the hallway of her family’s home.

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Just One Breath
6:00 am
Sat September 8, 2012

Valley Fever basics

What is valley fever?

Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is a disease caused by a fungus called coccidioides immitis found in the soil primarily in certain parts of the Southwestern United States, Mexico and Central and South America. A person can become infected by inhaling the spores of the fungus. The infection starts in the lungs, but can spread to other organs in the body and the bones.

What are the symptoms?

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Just One Breath
8:38 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

Putting Valley Fever on the Front Burner

Emily Gorospe uses an inhaler to treat her valley fever with antifungal medication.
Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle Reporting on Health Collaborative

How does knowledge about unfamiliar diseases enter the public consciousness and the public policy agenda?

As editor of Reporting on Health, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this question as we launch a series by a new reporting collaborative I brought together. It includes news outlets whose reporters have participated in our California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships. Reporting on Health Contributing Editor William Heisel has ably served as project editor for this effort. 

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