Health

News on health, wellness and health care

Valley fever vaccine effort lacks federal funding

Oct 7, 2012

The federal government is the single biggest source for the primary research that leads to new vaccines. 

But, like the pharmaceutical industry, it currently is not supporting a valley fever vaccine. Other diseases that affect far fewer people receive much more federal support. 

Tularemia only affects about 200 people in the country annually, less than 1 percent of the estimated 150,000 people hit by valley fever. Like valley fever, the disease is primarily concentrated in only a portion of the country, mostly in the south-central and western part of the country.

Valley fever vaccine stalls after early promise

Oct 7, 2012
Photo by Brian Baer/Special To The Sacramento Bee

Just eight years ago, a vaccine to stop valley fever seemed within reach.

Ambitious scientists at five universities had brought in millions of dollars since 1997 from private donations and government funding to develop a way to beat the fungus before it ever had a chance to lodge in a person’s lungs and wreak havoc on his or her organs.

In 2004, they announced they had selected a pathway to pursue a vaccine.

Scientists took different routes to find valley fever vaccine

Oct 7, 2012
Photo by Brian Baer/Special To The Sacramento Bee

Five scientists were chosen by a committee affiliated with California State University, Bakersfield, in 1997 to pursue vaccine research.

Dr. John Galgiani, 66, professor at the University of Arizona and director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence

As states work to comply with the federal health care law, many are designing their insurance exchanges, where people will be able to shop for coverage.

But just the word "exchange" sounds to many like off-putting government-speak, and some states are eager to come up with a more appealing name for these new marketplaces.

Peter Lee directs California's Health Benefit Exchange. It's up for a new name, and Lee says they want it to sound fresh, dynamic and innovative.

Valley fever costs mount for patients and taxpayers

Sep 22, 2012
Henry A. Barrios/The Bakersfield Californian

Berenice Parra was sick for eight months before doctors realized she had a severe form of the fungal disease valley fever.

“I was literally dying without a cure,” said Parra, a 25-year-old mother of three from Arvin, in Kern County.

Desperate for relief and concerned that doctors in the Bakersfield area weren’t taking her illness seriously, she drove 245 miles to Tijuana, three times, to see a doctor recommended by relatives.

Valley fever forces police captain to give up his badge

Sep 22, 2012
The Bakersfield Californian

When Archie Scott came down with valley fever, he was 52, extremely fit and a captain in the Bakersfield Police Department. 

One day in 2007, he started feeling feverish and lethargic with joint aches. He went to his physician, but the diagnosis was inconclusive. Weeks later, when he still had a fever, he went to a neurologist for additional testing. 

“We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Scott said. 

Taxpayers spend millions on valley fever in prisons

Sep 22, 2012

Californians are locked into contributing to the cost of treating state inmates sickened by valley fever. 

Since 2006, the state prison system has tried but failed to reduce the disease’s impact and price tag.

California Correctional Health Care Services foots an annual bill of about $23 million for sending inmates with valley fever to hospitals outside the prison, guarding these patients, and for their antifungal treatments. That’s about what it costs to build a new school in Fresno County.

More teenagers are abusing and dying from prescription drug use.  Members of law enforcement, counselors, and prevention specialists gathered in Sacramento for a statewide summit on Thursday to see what can be done to reverse the trend.   

Sherrie Rubin and her son, Aaron traveled to Sacramento from San Diego for the summit.  They were among the 140 participants.  Sherrie says Aaron started abusing pills in high school. 

Millions of Californians May Still Be Uninsured in 2019

Sep 20, 2012

Millions of Californians may still be living without health insurance five years after the full implementation of the federal health law. 

A UC Berkeley and UCLA study projects two to three million Californians will have new health coverage by 2019. But co-author Ken Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Labor Center is looking at the other number.

“As many as 3 to 4 million Californians are predicted to remain uninsured.”

Licensed using Creative Commons from Maria Pontikis / http://www.flickr.com/photos/anthimeria/3813431974/

The saying goes “milk does a body good.” But despite that, too few of us really drink the white stuff, and that includes adults and kids.

In an effort to get more kids to benefit from the nutrients milk offers many school districts including Fresno Unified served up flavored milk, both chocolate and strawberry.  So along with their daily intake of vitamin A, calcium and potassium, students were also getting sugar a lot of sugar, about four additional teaspoons in an 8 ounce serving of chocolate milk.

Just One Breath: Valley fever robs daughter of mother at crucial time

Sep 15, 2012

Candice Steed remembers peering at her mother through a hospital room window in Bakersfield when she was just 8 years old .

Sharron Steed lay heavily sedated, a ventilator keeping her weakened body alive.

“They told us to say goodbye to my mom,” recalled Candice , now 20.

Sharron, a social worker, had contracted a severe form of valley fever. It ravaged her body with night sweats and fevers. A collapsed lung landed her in the hospital, and the symptoms only got worse.

The Voices of Valley Fever

Sep 15, 2012

‘Not being able to breathe was the worst.’

MERCED — The walk from Tom Price’s living room to his kitchen was only a few feet. But it felt like miles.

The 33-year-old from Merced was hit with valley fever in 2006. He had trouble breathing, and he was so fatigued for a month that the simplest tasks felt arduous.

“It was scary,” he said. “It was the first time I had ever been very sick. Not being able to breathe was the worst.”

Price remembers developing a high fever and sweats. He went to his regular doctor, who thought he had the flu.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Hospitals and doctors offices around California are getting an infusion of federal dollars to ramp up electronic recordkeeping.

California officials say health providers have received nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in federal stimulus money to modernize their record systems.

Dr. Gilbert Simon runs the Sacramento Family Medical Clinics. He says he already has plans for this fall.

“We will be calling in all of our patients with lung diseases to get their flu shots.”

Here in California's San Joaquin Valley, the disease known as valley fever can strike anyone at almost anyone at almost anytime. Just ask Dr. James McCarthy.

"It's pretty difficult to prevent something that you can acquire just by breathing in the air," says McCarthy. 

Just breathing in the air. Air that contains the spores of a soil fungus found throughout much of the Southwest, but especially in the southern portions of the San Joaquin Valley. 

Prop 63 Program Provides Many Paths Towards Mental Wellness

Sep 11, 2012

Since it was enacted in 2004, California’s Proposition 63 has raised over $8 billion by taxing the wealthy. The money was intended to pay for mental health services and prevention programs. But lawmakers have called for an audit after questions were raised about how money from the “millionaires’ tax” is being spent.

When Valley Fever Struck Celebrated Winemaker, Doctors Missed It

Sep 9, 2012
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.

Changing climate may expand valley fever’s impact

Sep 9, 2012
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.

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

Sep 8, 2012
Craig Kohlruss / Just One Breath - Reporting On Health Collaborative / 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.  

Valley Fever cases missed because of lack of awareness

Sep 8, 2012
Casey Christie / The Californian / Reporting on Health Collaborative

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.

Disease sidetracks girl with dreams of dancing

Sep 8, 2012
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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