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valley fever

Sean Work / The Californian / Reporting on Health Collaborative

For Central California families impacted by valley fever, it seemed like the long-ignored disease was finally gaining attention.

"Good afternoon everyone," said former State Senator Michael Rubio, as he welcomed people to a town hall meeting on valley fever, held last fall in Bakersfield. "I want to thank you for participating and joining us."

"My goal is to listen today and then capture a handful of action items, so that we can go back to Sacramento and introduce some legislation to move the ball forward on this very important subject."

Valley Fever Stories: Bernadette Madrid

Feb 11, 2013
Photo courtesy of Bernadette Madrid

Bernadette Madrid, Bakersfield, 29

I’ve been diabetic since I was 10. I got really sick with valley fever in 2006. It’s been a long seven years.

I thought I had a flu that wouldn’t go away and I had severe pain in my ribs. I also noticed that my vision was becoming blurry, and I thought maybe I needed glasses.

Valley Fever Stories: Jerry Walker

Feb 11, 2013
Casey Christie / The Californian

Jerry Walker, Bakersfield, 59

My name is Jerry Walker and I am a valley fever survivor.

I was not born and raised here. In late 1991, I was working as a petroleum engineer for one of the largest oilfield service companies in the world. Around the second week of November, I was working on the west side of the valley and experienced a very windy day with blowing sand.

Valley Fever Stories: David Losa

Feb 11, 2013
Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

David Losa, Bakersfield, 68

After living in Bakersfield for 17 years and not catching valley fever, I thought I might be immune. Being aware that the disease was endemic in my hometown, I read everything about it that I could get my hands on.

Valley Fever Stories: Karen Werts

Feb 11, 2013
Casey Christie / The Californian

Karen Werts, 53, Bakersfield

My journey with valley fever began in August 2010. While at work at a local medical center, I felt heaviness in my chest and my right arm ached. My boss sent me to urgent care to make sure I was not having a heart attack. The EKG was normal, but a chest X-ray showed a slight shadow in my right lung. The physician said I probably had the start of bronchitis, and prescribed antibiotics. The heavy feeling in my chest never went away and my legs began to swell.

One month later, I awoke in the middle of the night with chills. Later that night, I woke up again, soaking wet. I figured I was coming down with the flu, so I stayed home from work that day.

The Reporting on Health Collaborative asked readers to share their experiences with valley fever. Here are their stories, in their own words, as told to the Collaborative's Community Engagement Editor, Kellie Schmitt. 

Their accounts capture the pain and anguish suffered by local families as doctors struggled to find the right treatment and jobs and lives were lost to the disease. Misdiagnosis was a frequent problem, allowing time for the disease to "tunnel" its way into lungs and other organs, as one survivor put it. 

Five Ways to Move the Fight Against Valley Fever Forward

Dec 22, 2012
Alex Horvath/The Bakersfield Californian

Valley fever is a humbling disease.

It can rob sufferers of their health, their life plans and their financial well-being.

Uncertainty adds to the trauma. There is no cure around the corner, no vaccine in the works and no well-organized patient group lobbying effectively for more policy attention.

The result: those who become ill often suffer in silence and feel alone.

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.

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