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Kellie Schmitt

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As with much of the science around valley fever, the evidence base is still being built -- studies are scarce; data collection was erratic for years and continues to be spotty; and understanding the health effects of weather is a big, complicated task.

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Current treatments for valley fever can take so long to work that they allow the disease to spread, becoming more damaging and more deadly. What can be done?

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Valley fever is a drain on taxpayers. An estimated 60 percent of valley fever-related hospitalizations - resulting in charges of close to $2 billion over 10 years in California alone - are covered by government programs.

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“I was really lost,” Candice said of her mother's death from valley fever in 2009. “She was my best friend.”

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Valley Fever affects each of its victims differently. Here, three patients share how the disease has deeply affected their lives and their families.

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Valley fever feeds on heat. And as the average temperature ticks up with each passing decade, experts are concerned that the fungus’ footprint and impact are expanding, as evidenced by a rise in cases in areas far outside the hot spots of the Central Valley of California.

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A group of journalists plans to tackle a large community health problem in California -- Valley Fever, also known by its more technical name, coccidioidomycosis or “cocci.” Their reporting will dig deep into the trends, the costs, the science, the funding and the policy responses to the disease.

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The Bakersfield Californian recently took on one of the most ambitious health care quality projects I have seen attempted by an outlet outside of the really big markets. One reporter, Kellie Schmitt, wanted to answer two questions: whether most of the doctors in Kern County were from another country and whether that mattered.

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