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Just One Breath: The Valley Fever Blog

This blog builds on the Reporting on Health Collaborative's "Just One Breath" Valley Fever reporting project, which was launched in September 2012 in several California newspapers, online news services, public radio and at ReportingonHealth.org.

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New research proves for the first time that the fungus that causes valley fever is living in Washington state, far outside its traditional boundaries in the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. While the findings aren't cause for panic, the news suggests clinicians should be on the watch for symptoms.

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The sustained fire power and reach of seven news outlets – combined with community outreach efforts – have yielded results as we approach the one-year anniversary of the new Reporting on Health Collaborative and its series on the toll of valley fever.

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The struggles of some California prisoners with valley fever have largely remained hidden from the public until now as the state prison system has to move at-risk inmates from facilities where valley fever is endemic.

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Most of the people who contract valley fever live in California or in Arizona. But concerns about the disease are starting to spread -- with journalists reporting on it from other parts of the country.

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As we have seen with air pollution, tobacco use, and other public health concerns, when California starts setting policy on a topic, it can have a powerful effect nationally.

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The Reporting on Health Collaborative heard earlier this week that Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, was going to meet with the head of the Centers for Disease Control and then issue a statement. Is that itself worth a story?

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The CDC's research on valley fever's impact in California and Arizona was both an unexpected validation of the Reporting on Health Collaborative's work and an encouragement to do more of the same.

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Whether the subject is a money-squandering government agency or a looming public health threat or a failing school system, reporters want to be able to say something changed as a result of their reporting. Momentum might get going after a story, but continuing it is another matter.

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Journalists have a knack for pointing out problems. They rarely explain how to fix these problems. The message to readers is: the world is a mess. You figure out how to make it better. There is a growing movement among reporters to remedy this.

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Journalist Rebecca Plevin faced many challenges reporting on the high rates – and costs – of valley fever in California prisons. Here's what you can learn from her work.

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