valley fever

Valley fever treatments can do harm as they heal

Dec 8, 2012

Thousands of California and Arizona adults and children annually contract valley fever and find themselves battling the disease for months or years — missing work and school, spending weeks in the hospital — with frequent recurrences.

If they had a bacterial infection — food poisoning, strep throat or a boil on the skin — their doctor could reach for multiple, cost-effective antibiotics that usually are able to kill the bacteria, even though resistance to antibiotics is on the rise.

For Some California Prisoners, Valley Fever Becomes A Life Sentence

Nov 26, 2012
Kevin Walker

Kevin Walker arrived at Taft Correctional Institution, a federal prison in western Kern County, in December 1999 to serve a 14-year sentence for attempted possession of cocaine.

But another kind of sentence awaited him, one far more painful than confinement alone.

In July 2001, fluid-leaking boils broke out across Walker’s face and body. Once he was diagnosed with valley fever, doctors put him on an antifungal drug — amphotericin B — but the drug was so powerful that it caused his kidneys and liver to begin failing.

Valley fever takes an animal toll, and pets rely on the same treatments as people

Nov 19, 2012
Henry A. Barrios / The Bakersfield Californian

The first valley fever victim that Dr. Demosthenes Pappagianis remembers was Mbongo — a gorilla at the San Diego Zoo

“I was a kid in San Diego at the time and saw the article in the newspaper,” recalled the veteran researcher on the animal’s 1942 death from the disease, also known as coccidiomycosis. “I didn’t know what cocci were at that time, but I knew that a gorilla at the zoo had died.”

Valley Fever Research For Pets May Yield Benefits For Humans

Nov 19, 2012
Henry A. Barrios / The Bakersfield Californian

Dogs, not people, may hold the key to improved treatments, even a possible cure, for valley fever.

One way researchers have lured private money is by proposing research projects involving pets, the theory being that companies and donors would see more of a market potential in dogs and cats suffering and dying from the disease.

Dogs and humans get hit with valley fever in a very similar way. They inhale spores from a fungus common in the soil in the Southwest. The spores take root in the lungs and can spread to other organs and parts of the body.

More People Dying from Valley Fever, Especially Those With Chronic Disease

Oct 17, 2012
Henry A. Barrios / The Bakersfield Californian

More people are dying from valley fever than previously thought, and illnesses including diabetes, lung disease, arthritis and certain cancers may increase a person’s chances of dying from the disease, according to a new study.

This past year, researchers have puzzled over the rise of valley fever cases. Diagnosed cases have grown from 1,200 in 1995 to more than 20,000 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now researchers have new evidence to consider: a study to be published in the November issue of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

Public Health Champion Felled by Diabetes and Valley Fever

Oct 17, 2012

The last time Linda Jue saw her husband alive, he was in the intensive care unit in a lot of pain.

Right before doctors gave him painkillers, Jeff Jue gave her two thumbs up and smiled.

The former Merced County mental health director was fighting for his life at the time. Doctors at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto were treating him for valley fever.

Jue was starting to enjoy his retirement when it was suddenly cut short by the fungal disease.

“He had only been retired for three years,” said Linda Jue, who lives in Modesto.

Town hall event focuses on valley fever concerns

Oct 7, 2012
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

San Joaquin Valley residents, doctors and experts demanding improvements in the way valley fever is studied, diagnosed and treated shared their concerns during a town hall meeting hosted by state Senator Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, in Bakersfield on Friday.

Experts stressed the need for earlier diagnosis of the disease. That requires better education about the disease for providers and the public, they said.

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

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.

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.

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. 

Valley Public Radio

On this Valley Edition, host Juanita Stevenson examines the recent surge in the number of cases of valley fever in the Central Valley, talks about solutions to the problem of inner city unemployment, and looks ahead to the upcoming events of the Sierra Art Trails program in the foothills of central California. 

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.