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Reporters Race to Cover a Community Walk to Raise Awareness for Neglected Disease

Reporters Race to Cover a Community Walk to Raise Awareness for Neglected Disease

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It’s a barely kept secret in newsrooms that reporters everywhere dread “the walks.”

The walks for peace.

The walks for the library.

The art walks.

This Saturday, five great reporters from California news outlets are legitimately excited about a walk: the Walk for Valley Fever Awareness.

A few months ago at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Atlanta, Center for Health Journalism Digital’s editor Michelle Levander and I met with a group of reporters to talk about possible collaborations across outlets that would tackle a large community health problem. Over time, the conversation grew and a core team was formed: Yesenia Amaro from the Merced Sun-Star, Joe Goldeen from the Stockton Record, Rebecca Plevin from Vida en el Valle in Fresno, Kellie Schmitt from the Bakersfield Californian, and Tracy Wood from Voice of OC. We talked about environmental threats, food quality, public safety and a host of other issues.

The topic they chose was Valley Fever, also known by its more technical name, coccidioidomycosis or “cocci.” Once the cocci fungus takes root in your system, you are stuck with it. Each individual reacts differently to a cocci infection. It can cause no symptoms. It can cause very mild breathing problems and a fever – hence the name – that go away without much incident. It can wreck your health and, after you recover, wreck it once again.

It also can kill.

Everywhere you turn in Central California, you meet someone with a Valley Fever story. I just talked with another media outlet this week who related two Valley Fever stories, including a whole family who had been hit with it. Newspapers write about it on occasion. Golf tournaments are held to raise money for research. The reason Bakersfield is having an “awareness” walk is not because people in Bakersfield don’t know about Valley Fever, it’s because they’ve heard about it so often that it has become background noise.

Our goal is to dig deep into the trends, the costs, the science, the funding and the policy responses to Valley Fever. We want to identify the hurdles that have allowed Valley Fever to continue harming and killing for more than a century without effective treatments or preventative measures, while other diseases have been curtailed and eradicated.

The project results from a new venture – the Reporting On Health collaborative – an initiative of the Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It is made possible through the support of The California Endowment.

I’ll tell you more about it in the weeks to come. But this weekend, Plevin will be in Bakersfield working with Louis Amestoy, the Californian’s multimedia expert, to capture the stories of people affected by the disease. We’ll be sharing those with you, too.

If you have ideas for how we should approach this project or questions you would like to see answered, please contact me at askantidote@gmail.com.

Image by Pulmonary Pathology via Flickr

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