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Town hall to explore the costs, human impact of valley fever

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Town hall to explore the costs, human impact of valley fever

The Just One Breath investigative series on valley fever prompts a California state senator to hold hearings on the rise in cases in the state's agricultural Central Valley.

Photo credit: Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle
Town hall to explore the costs, human impact of valley fever
Reporting on Health Collaborative
Friday, September 28, 2012

BY RACHEL COOK, Californian staff writer
rcook@bakersfield.com

A series of recent stories in The Californian highlighting the devastating impact of valley fever on sufferers and taxpayers is garnering the attention of doctors, community groups and even a lawmaker who hopes to get the state to invest in a vaccine.

State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, is planning a valley fever town hall meeting of health officials to be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Kern County Public Health Services Department building, 1800 Mount Vernon Ave.

Rubio said he hopes to gather enough information this fall to craft legislation moving the state toward helping fund a vaccine. That will actually save money in the long run, he said.

Patients are losing their livelihoods and taxpayers are spending tens of millions of dollars a year fighting valley fever after infection, the series has detailed.

"I believe it's going to present a very compelling case why we need to make investments today in developing the vaccine," Rubio said.

Rubio also has personal experience with the disease. His younger brother's bout with valley fever last year knocked him out of training to become a Kern County sheriff's deputy.

"Valley fever has been an issue that for someone like myself, who (grew up) in Kern County, you're always aware of it," Rubio said.

Valley fever has been spotlighted in "Just One Breath: A special valley fever report" launched by The Californian and its many partners in the new Reporting on Health Collaborative.

The continuing series has been delving into the rise in valley fever cases, costs of treating the illness and lack of funding for a vaccine. It's also been telling the personal stories of those stricken by the sometimes fatal disease caused by fungal spores that live in soil.

Dr. Navin Amin, an infectious disease specialist and chairman of family medicine and pediatrics at Kern Medical Center, said the newspaper series has featured precise and outstanding data and highlighted eye-opening cases.

The doctor hopes the reporting could lead to better diagnosis of the illness by prompting physicians to be more aware of the possibility of valley fever when they treat patients and encouraging patients to ask their doctors to test them for valley fever.

Amin's main frustration is treating patients who could have been diagnosed earlier.

"We tell (our residents) that if you are planning to practice in the Central Valley, valley fever should be the number one disease you think about in any patient that comes to you," Amin said.

Amin will present various valley fever cases at a two-hour physician education program for Kaiser Permanente doctors in November. The activity is part of Kaiser's routine practice of presenting education programs for its doctors, said Linda Ephrom, manager of Kaiser Permanente's Professional Staff office in Kern County.

The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in Delano is also planning a valley fever event.

"Whatever it takes to get more people to understand what it is and how serious (valley fever is) is what I hope we can do," said Valerie Gorospe, a community organizer for the group.

"I would hope (an event) would happen this year just because (valley fever has) been in the media so much and it would be a good time to catch onto that momentum."

The series has featured the struggle of Gorospe's daughter, Emily, with valley fever.

"I know it's (the reporters') jobs but it just seems like there's more attention being put on (valley fever) now, which is fabulous," Gorospe said.

Jessica Einstein, daughter of the prominent late valley fever researcher Dr. Hans Einstein and director of communications for the Valley Fever Americas Foundation, said "it's mind blowing" to see valley fever getting so much ink. In the future, Einstein would like to see a brief valley fever segment included in schools' curriculum and great awareness among doctors about the symptoms of valley fever.

She stressed that testing for the disease is relatively cheap.

"Hopefully the series of articles can make the physicians more aware...that they should be hypersensitive to the issue," she said.

Photo credit: Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle

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.

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