Skip to main content.

Inmates At Risk of Valley Fever To Be Moved From Two Valley Prisons

Fellowship Story Showcase

Inmates At Risk of Valley Fever To Be Moved From Two Valley Prisons

About 40 percent of the inmates at Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons will be relocated, due to their risk of acquiring valley fever.
REPORTING ON HEALTH COLLABORATIVE
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

By Joe Moore

The federal receiver in charge of health care in California’s prisons is ordering the state to remove inmates from two Central Valley prisons who are especially at risk of contracting the fungal disease known as valley fever. The move affects about 40 percent of the inmate population at Avenal and Pleasant Valley State Prisons. 

Those affected include African Americans, Filipinos, inmates who are HIV positive, have compromised immune systems, or are pregnant or elderly.

Joyce Hayhoe is with the department of California Correctional Health Care Services. She says valley fever has been a growing problem in the prison system.

"Since 2006, we've had 40 deaths statewide where valley fever was either the primary or the secondary cause of death, so it's more than just one or two cases here or there," Hayhoe said. 

She said the state prison system had already taken some steps to reduce the incidence of valley fever. They were excluding inmates considered most vulnerable to the disease from prisons in endemic regions, were educating prisoners about valley fever symptoms, and had cancelled planned construction at Pleasant Valley State Prison. But she says those efforts were not enough.

"It was hoped that some of those mitigation efforts would help the incidence of cocci, or valley fever, from increasing, but in data that we have since received, those efforts have really proven to be ineffective, so that was the reason for needing to take the additional step of putting out the directive today."

In an e-mail, Jeffrey Callison, press secretary for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the implications of the receiver’s directive are "considerable," especially since it is effective immediately. It's unclear exactly how the department will comply with the directive. 

Still, Hayhoe said the directive is feasible. "There are 31 other state prisons statewide, so our directive does not tell the department where to move them, that's entirely up to the department,” she said. “The department is pretty good at moving prisoners when it's necessary."

Since 2007, a federal receiver has been in charge of health care in the state's prisons, after a federal court found inmate conditions unconstitutional. 

Valley fever is an airborne fungal disease that is common throughout the arid southwest, and in the San Joaquin Valley. The issue of valley fever in state prisons came to light in part through a series of special reports called "Just One Breath" from the Reporting On Health Collaborative. Valley Public Radio is a member of the project.

The prisoner relocation directive could pose additional problems in the state's effort to reduce its prison population. The governor has until Thursday to present a new plan to a federal panel on prison overcrowding.

Valley Public Radio's Rebecca Plevin also contributed to this report.

This story was originally published on April 30, 2013 on KVPR.org 

Photo Credit Casey Christie / The Californian

About This Series

This project results from an innovative reporting venture – the Center for Health Journalism Collaborative – which currently involves the Bakersfield Californian, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, Hanford Sentinel, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, La Estrella de Tucsón and the Center for Health Journalism. The collaborative is an initiative of the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

RELATED STORIES THIS WEEK

Accurate valley fever counts elude health officials

“Valley fever is almost certainly underreported, due to physicians and the public not being familiar with the disease,” said one infectious disease specialist. Reliable estimates of valley fever cases are still lacking.

CDC technology advances promise better valley fever detection

New sensors in development at the CDC could provide a breakthrough in valley fever detection and prevention throughout the Southwestern United States.

New valley fever skin test shows promise, but obstacles remain

A new skin test called Spherusol can detect whether a person has developed immunity to valley fever. But despite its promise, the test still isn’t in wide use.

FORECASTING AN EPIDEMIC: Does weather hold the key to predicting valley fever outbreaks?

As recently as August, Calif. health officials predicted the number of valley fever cases this year would go down. Now it’s shaping up to be one of the worst years on record.

Public pushes for new thinking in valley fever research

Advocates of valley fever research have complained that the disease does not affect enough people to garner attention and funding; local doctors often misdiagnosed it; most data about the disease dates back decades; and the public has little knowledge of the disease and its impact.

Valley Fever Research Day Aims To Connect With Community

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

Federal, local officials hopeful for 'new era' in valley fever

Many questions about valley fever remained unanswered Tuesday as public health officials, physicians and politicians finished a two-day symposium on the disease, but many were hopeful that the summit will be a turning point.

Agencies to Launch Randomized Controlled Trial for Valley Fever

Directors of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell a packed valley fever symposium they are "serious" about finding a better treatment for the disease.