valley fever

Valley Fever Cases Down Since Drought Began

Jul 14, 2015
Craig Kohlruss / Just One Breath - Reporting On Health Collaborative / The Fresno Bee

California health experts are surprised that the incidence of Valley Fever has gone down during the drought. The fungal infection is commonly spread in arid, dusty conditions. But, even though the state is drier, the number of cases continues to drop. Capital Public Radio's Lesley McClurg has the story.

Valley Fever peaked in 2011 with more than 5,000 cases in California. Last year there were fewer than half that. Dr. James Watt is the Chief of the Division of Communicable Diseases for the California Department of Public Health.

Valley Public Radio

The fight against valley fever may reach a new milestone. A bill in the state legislature would fund research for this disease in hopes of finding a cure. 

The bill introduced by State Senator Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, would allocate $1 million to fund research into a valley fever vaccine. Valley fever- also known as coccidioidomycosis- cases have increased dramatically over the last decade, including in the Central Valley. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 9,500 cases were reported nationwide in 2013.

Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio

  Advocates say moving people to the new facility in Bakersfield is raising serious concerns about the risk of exposing immigrants to valley fever. This disease is caused by a fungus that thrives throughout the Central Valley and parts of the Southwest, sending out spores. 

Julia Mass is with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California.

CA Department of Corrections

More than 2,100 California inmates will have to be moved from two Central Valley prisons because they may be susceptible of contracting valley fever.

Results from skin tests conducted earlier this month showed an additional 3,050 inmates have already been exposed to the potentially deadly illness.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will move the inmates from Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons but officials are still determining where the inmates will be transferred to.

Craig Kohlruss / The Fresno Bee

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is spending more than $5 million dollars to test around 90,000 inmates for the potentially deadly illness. The goal is to reduce number of infections, and determine who can be housed at both Avenal and Pleasant Valley Prisons.

The results from the newly available skin test will reveal who is at a higher risk of catching Valley Fever and who is not. Those found to be in high-risk groups will not be transferred to the two prisons.

Craig Kohlruss / Just One Breath - Reporting On Health Collaborative / The Fresno Bee

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will include the fungus that causes valley fever on a list of pathogens eligible for federal research funding.

Experts like John Galgiani from the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona say the move will aid in the development of drugs to treat the disease.

"It's another example of increasing recognition of the importance of this problem," Galgiani said. "And repeated recognition can only help but identify this as an unmet need deserving of further funding."

Rebecca Plevin / Valley Public Radio

This year, you’re likely to hear a lot of predictions about how the drought will impact our health, environment, and food.

But one thing you won’t hear is whether the dry conditions will – without a doubt - increase the risk of valley fever in California. Sure, it makes sense. Even microbiologist Antje Lauer expects that drought conditions, and drier soil, would increase the risk of valley fever.

“If we want to have less of the valley fever fungus in the soil, you would pray for more rain,” Lauer says. 

M Street Arts Complex


This week on Valley Edition we take a look at the issues of immigration, high speed rail and agriculture in an interview with Republican Congressman David Valadao. 

UCSF Fresno

This Saturday, community members are invited to attend Valley Fever Research Day at the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research. The event is an opportunity for researchers from UCSF Fresno, UC Merced, and Fresno State to connect with community members who have been impacted by the disease.

When Valley Public Radio and other Central California media started reporting on valley fever last fall, the disease was commonly overlooked by medical professionals and government agencies. But as the Reporting on Health Collaborative – which includes KVPR and six other print and radio outlets in English and Spanish – began publishing more than 50 stories and blog posts, health and political leaders began taking notice.