News on health, wellness and health care

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.

Valley Fever basics

Sep 8, 2012

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?

Putting Valley Fever on the Front Burner

Sep 7, 2012
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. 

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

A West Virginia resident is the third person to die of hantavirus in the last month after visiting Yosemite National Park. The outbreak of the rare disease, which is contracted through contact with the urine or feces of infected deer mice has prompted a worldwide health advisory for individuals who visited the park earlier this summer. A total of eight cases have been reported so far. All of the cases but one involve people who stayed at the "Signature Tent Cabins" at Yosemite's Curry Village. The other case involves a person who visited camps in the High Sierra.

A Central Valley dairy is once again facing a recall of its milk products, just months after a similar incident resulted in products being pulled off store shelves.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture announced the recall of raw milk, raw skim milk and raw cream from Kerman based Organic Pastures Dairy today after a routine test discovered campylobacter in a sample of cream. The recalled products all bear the date code of September 13.

State Sets Minimum Benefits for Health Plans

Sep 1, 2012
Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics /

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.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite National Park that has sickened six and killed two could grow much larger, according to the Centers For Disease Control. On Friday the CDC  issued a health advisory, warning that as many as 10,000 people who stayed at tent cabins in Yosemite National Park between June 10 and August 24th may be at risk for the disease. 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The outbreak of hantavirus among people who visited Yosemite National Park continues to grow, as two additional people have been diagnosed with the disease, according to the California Department of Public Health. That brings the total number of Yosemite related cases this year to six. Most of the individuals who became infected stayed at tent cabins in Curry Village earlier this summer. 

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

Aug 30, 2012
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.

Calls by scientists to warn Yosemite visitors on the dangers of hantavirus apparently went unheeded by park officials until recently. Christina Jewett of California Watch reports that a document from 2010 indicates that public health officials had suggested steps to reduce the risk of infections in the park's tent cabins, and to educate the public about the disease.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Officials at Yosemite National Park have announced that a second person has died after contracting hantavirus during a park visit, and another is likely sick from the disease.  Earlier this month, two other people were diagnosed with the rare pulmonary disease and one died from the illness.

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).

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.

Training Program Props Up New Nurses in Tough Job Market

Aug 21, 2012

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.

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.

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.

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.