health

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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Health Care
6:00 am
Sat September 1, 2012

State Sets Minimum Benefits for Health Plans

Credit Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics / http://www.flickr.com/photos/modernrelics/4461010654/

CHCF Center for Health Reporting

SACRAMENTO – Californians now have a clearer picture of what health insurance will look like when major provisions of the federal health care law debut in 2014.

Acupuncture to treat pain and nausea will be covered, for example, as will tobacco cessation and vision screening.

But the jury’s still out on chiropractic care.

State lawmakers this week sent two bills to the governor that identify the services health insurance plans must cover starting in 2014 for individuals and small businesses.

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Health
2:41 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

Fresno's Saint Agnes Medical Center Fined After Towel Left In Patient

Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno (file photo)
Credit Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Officials with the California State Department of Public Health today issued fines against 14 hospitals for not complying with various licensing requirements that according to the state, resulted in serious injuries or deaths.

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Valley Edition
12:43 pm
Tue August 28, 2012

On Valley Edition: Immunization Law; Shrinking Middle Class; Learn2Earn

This week on Valley Edition, we revisit the issue of the state's efforts to replace the former Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) program with the new Community Based Adult Services (CBAS) program. Advocates for those with severe disabilities say the new program is turning away many who should qualify, but the state disagrees. Lauren Whaley brings us a special report from Sacramento.

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Health
11:01 am
Tue August 28, 2012

Who's eligible? State, advocates grapple over which elderly qualify for ADHC replacement program

They're poor. They're elderly. They're disabled. But are they eligible? Advocates and state officials are struggling to determine just who among hundreds will be allowed to continue in the program that replaces Medi-Cal's Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) system. Cash-starved California slashed the optional ADHC benefit last fall and replaced it with a leaner program called Community-Based Adult Services (CBAS).

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Government & Politics
12:23 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

Contraception, Vaccine Bills Pass California Senate

Credit Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics / http://www.flickr.com/photos/modernrelics/4461010654/

Two major health-related bills passed the California Senate Wednesday. One bill would require a doctor’s signature before a parent can opt out of a vaccination for their child. Democratic Senator Lois Wolk says the bill doesn’t take away parental rights, just requires a doctor’s visit.

“If, at the end of that you decide that you want an immunization for your child, fine. If you don’t, you don’t need to get one. You just have to have that conversation with a medical professional.”

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Health
2:39 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

Fresno County Reports First West Nile Death of 2012

An elderly Fresno County woman is dead today after contracting West Nile virus. Her death is the second in California associated with the virus this year. She had been hospitalized prior to her death.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health released a statement today indicating that there have been 26 cases of West Nile virus in humans throughout the state this year. In 2011, the state reported a total of 158 cases with 9 deaths. Fresno County had 9 reported cases of the illness in 2011, with no deaths.

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Health Care
11:10 am
Tue August 21, 2012

Training Program Props Up New Nurses in Tough Job Market

Nursing has a reputation for being a well-paid, stable profession with lots of opportunity. But in the current economy, many nursing school graduates may send out dozens of job applications and get no interviews. Pauline Bartolone visited one Sacramento area program that is hiring new nurses, and hopes to keep them.

A few dozen nurses are packed into this room at Sutter medical center in Roseville to practice a scenario none of them looks forward to. A patient’s heart has stopped beating, and a loved one is hysterical. The nurses job is to bring life back to the patient.

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Health
6:30 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

California Voters' 'Strong Support' for Federal Health Law Grows, Field Poll Suggests

California health leaders say they’re ‘heartened’ with a new Field Poll that suggests state voter support for the federal health law is getting stronger.

More than half of California voters polled said they support the health overhaul. More showed ‘strong support’ for the law than in the past two years. Thirty-seven percent of Californians oppose the law.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley says she was struck by the partisan nature of the findings.

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Health
2:13 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

Medicare Funding Cuts Would Hit Fresno, Rural Hospitals Hardest

CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Already reeling from big cutbacks in Medicare funding, hospitals in the Fresno area would lose another 5.4 percent of their federal reimbursement under a new analysis ordered by Congress.

Rural areas of California would be hit hardest under the Institute of Medicine study, which would pare Medicare payments to the state’s hospitals by an average 3-4 percent.

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Health
4:10 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Hantavirus Sickens 2, Kills 1 in Yosemite

Joe Moore Valley Public Radio

One California resident is dead and another is ill today after contracting a rare disease spread by deer mice while vacationing at Yosemite National Park. Officials with the State Department of Public Health announced today that they believe the individuals contracted the disease while staying at Yosemite's Curry Village.

Hantavirus is rare in the state, but the disease is often deadly. Since 1993 there have been 60 cases of the disease in California, and about one third of those cases have been fatal.

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Health
11:25 am
Thu August 16, 2012

California Lawmakers, Nurses Take a Hard Look at Charity Care at Non-Profit Hospitals

California lawmakers and nurses are taking a hard look at charitable health care provided by hospitals with non-profit tax status.

Different hospitals have different practices when it comes to care for those who have trouble paying. For example, a patient may get free care in one hospital, but be charged at another.

At least, that’s what a recent report from the California State Auditor suggests.

Democratic State Senator Ellen Corbett chaired a committee this week that is looking into creating standards for the tax exempt status.

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Environment
4:09 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Environmental Groups File Suit Over Water Contamination

A map shows water wells in the state that indicated the presence of chromium 6, from 2000-2012.
State Water Resources Control Board

Two major environmental groups have filed suit against the California State Department of Public Health for what they call a failure by the state to set rules for the safe amount of a toxic chemical in drinking water. Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, gained widespread attention as the chemical that sickened residents in the film Erin Brockovich. 

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Reporting on Health
2:58 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

State Hospital Infection Rate Drops, Many Valley Hospitals Above Average

Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno
Joe Moore Valley Public Radio

California hospitals experienced a 10 percent drop in the number of serious infections over the past year, but a number of San Joaquin Valley hospitals are still above the state average, when compared with similar hospitals elsewhere in the state.

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