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valley fever

Kerry Klein / KVPR

As communities across the southwest struggle to prevent valley fever, a sometimes-debilitating fungal disease, one community appears to have made progress: California state prisons, where inmates are at a significantly lower risk of valley fever than they used to be. Here, we explore why—starting with one man who wasn’t so lucky.

Richard Nuwintore was barely three weeks into his sentence at Taft Correctional Institution when he began to cough and experience chest pain. Within a few days, it was obvious something was wrong.

Federal Funding Fuels New Valley Fever Research

Dec 11, 2016

For seven years, Dr. George Thompson at the University of California, Davis, collected DNA samples from patients for research into valley fever.

He sought funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of primary biomedical research in the U.S., but could not secure any money to pursue his inquiry: Do genes protect some people from getting sick after inhaling the fungus that causes valley fever?

Accurate Valley Fever Counts Elude Health Officials

Nov 28, 2016
Casey Christie / The Bakersfield Californian

Estimates of the number of valley fever cases recorded by local, state and federal agencies vary so widely that they call into question the accuracy of the figures released to the public, a Center for Health Journalism Collaborative investigation has found.

Kerry Klein/KVPR

The fungal disease can afflict individuals of any age and ethnic group—even those who have lived and worked in the valley for decades. As part of our first-person series My Valley, My Story, we travel to the annual Valley Fever Walk in Bakersfield, where a 54-year-old Kern County man shares his story of overcoming the disease.  

CDC Technology Advances Promise Better Valley Fever Detection

Nov 21, 2016
THE CENTER FOR HEALTH JOURNALISM COLLABORATIVE

New technology could reveal the microscopic, sometimes deadly spores that cause valley fever that currently float in the air undetected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is developing  a sensor that can detect levels of the cocci fungus in the air and soil, said Christopher Braden, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging Zoonotic Infectious Diseases branch. The agency has been working on the technology for three years, and Braden is hopeful the sensors could be moved into wider use over the next few years.

Kerry Klein/KVPR

We continue our reporting this week on the fungal disease known as valley fever with a story about a potential route to prevention. One of the first lines of defense against any disease is determining who’s at risk. It’s possible to develop immunity to valley fever, and a new skin test could be used to screen for that immunity—but that’s only if the test overcomes some major hurdles.

Courtesy KABC Los Angeles / Center For Health Journalism Collaborative

Valley fever has long been a major health concern for people who live in the San Joaquin Valley. A fungus that grows in the soil can become airborne. If inhaled it can cause serious health issues, even death in some cases, though most people who contract the disease have a mild case, and they don’t even know they’ve had it. Now cases of the disease are up significantly in Kern County and some say it is connected to California's weather patterns.

Forecasting An Epidemic: Does Weather Hold The Key To Predicting Valley Fever Outbreaks?

Nov 13, 2016
Craig Kohlruss / The Fresno Bee

When a punishing drought besieged California in the late 1980s, relief came with 30 days of rain in 1991 — dubbed the March Miracle because of how it revived the state’s agricultural economy.

Those significant swings in the weather may have had another consequence, though. The next year, Kern County health officials counted more cases of valley fever than ever before, with roughly 3,342 diagnoses and 25 deaths. By contrast, a decade earlier in 1982, fewer than 200 people were diagnosed with the disease and seven died.

Facebook page of Congressman Kevin McCarthy

Bakersfield’s Kern Medical has selected to work with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control on a new clinical trial for valley fever. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made the announcement Thursday at the hospital. The study aims to learn more about both diagnosing and treating the disease.

Valley Fever is caused by a fungus that grows in the soil throughout the southwest, including the Southern San Joaquin Valley. If inhaled it can cause serious health problems, those most people never know they have been infected.

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."

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