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Center for Health Journalism
University of Southern California
Misdiagnosis. A lack of public awareness. And a long history of inaction by government agencies. In this occasional series, we will explore the startling rise of cases, the science of studying the disease, the high costs to patients and taxpayers, the weak federal and private interest in funding treatments and vaccines, and the public health response.
Valley fever starts with the simple act of breathing. In about 100 cases every year nationally the fever kills. That’s more deaths than those caused by hantavirus, whooping cough, and salmonella poisoning combined, yet all of these conditions receive far more attention from public health officials.
A group of Southern California researchers tallied up every death certificate that mentioned valley fever over a nearly 20-year period. They found more than 3,000 deaths from the disease.
A 7-year-old girl's childhood is tormented by a disease that government agencies continue to ignore. Last spring, Emily did not have enough energy to dance – let alone walk down the hallway of her family’s home.
The soaring nationwide figures for valley fever don’t tell the whole story. Problems with screening for the disease and tracking it over time mean that thousands of cases go undetected and untreated every year, leading experts to believe the second epidemic is likely worse than documented.
What are the symptoms? Fever, a persistent cough that won’t go away, night sweats, weight loss, and different kinds of rashes. Once a person is infected with the fungus, it does not leave the body.
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.
Boutique winery owner, Todd Schaefer, was diagnosed with pneumonia twice before doctors were able to see that he was infected with Valley Fever. As his condition worsens, the disease puts a strain on his health, and his business.
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.
In an editorial, the Bakersfield Californian praises state Sen. Michael Rubio "for stepping forward and pledging to do something about the rise in valley fever cases we've seen in recent years."
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.
At age 52, Bakersfield Police Captain Archie Scott was healthy and extremely fit. Then valley fever ended his career. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” he said.
The quest for a valley fever vaccine is losing ground as its leading scientists near retirement and funding remains scarce.
El Senador del Estado de California, Michael Rubio organizó una reunión pública en Bakersfield sobre la fiebre del valle, enfermedad que está impactando cada vez más al Valle de San Joaquín, el sur de California y Arizona.
Scientists researching a vaccine for valley fever take different scientific approaches to their work. Some have been stymied by a lack of funding for their work.
San Joaquin Valley residents, doctors and experts demanded improvements in the way valley fever is studied at a town hall sponsored by California state Sen. Michael Rubio.
Several California radio stations are helping to call attention to the terrible toll of valley fever by broadcasting reports and interview programs full of valuable information for listeners across the state.
Having another chronic disease like diabetes, arthritis or cancer may increase the risk of dying from valley fever, a new study suggests.
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?
In 2002, when her two-month-old daughter Jayden developed a fever, Jillian Lugo just thought her baby was getting her first cold. Little did she know that Jayden had contracted valley fever. Here's what happened next.
Jeff Jue, a Central California mental health executive, hoped to enjoy his retirement by traveling. But his life was cut short by a deadly combination of diabetes and the valley fever he contracted during a retirement trip to South America.
Just what is valley fever? The Center for Health Journalism Digital collaborative sheds light on how the public and medical community lack awareness of this often misdiagnosed disease that has been plagued by a long history of inaction by government agencies.
Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy made another move in his crusade against valley fever Wednesday, announcing the new “Congressional Valley Fever Task Force.”
California’s tally of valley fever cases dropped by more than 1,000 last year and some counties have also seen fewer cases in the early months of 2013. But public health officials say it’s too early to identify long-term trends in the numbers.
A Bakersfield congressman says he has helped to launch an upcoming CDC awareness campaign on valley fever and seeks to spur work on a vaccine.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued last week, shows that the incidence of valley fever cases is up an astounding 850 percent over the past decade-plus.
The number of valley fever cases has soared so high in recent years that health experts are calling it "The Second Epidemic."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now confirms a sharp rise in cases of the fungal disease, especially in California and Arizona.
Legislators are poised to take action on valley fever, a long-ignored disease that is the subject of a Reporting on Health Collaborative project.
Coming out of the dark will require coordination and significant sums of money. The Reporting on Health Collaborative asked patients, physicians, researchers and government officials to identify steps that could be taken now to change the course of the disease.
The press coverage by the Reporting on Health Collaborative exposed just how little attention the airborne fungal infection has received from officials at all levels of government. This has to end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rate of people being hospitalized for valley fever has doubled in California over the past decade. Not only are more people being diagnosed with the disease but the cases are serious enough that more people are ending up in the hospital.
On Monday, valley fever and the California area hit hardest by it will receive unprecedented attention in a two-day symposium led by U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. Rarely do the leaders of CDC and the NIH - two of the most powerful health institutions in the world - join the stage.
Valley fever hasn’t generated significant research funding. What will help move the needle? A sustained effort by public health advocates, clinicians and patients and their families and continued attention from media outlets.
Strong patient advocacy raised the profile of breast cancer and HIV/AIDS. What lessons can those involved in the fight against valley fever learn from other, more high profile diseases?
California prisoner Louis Baca and his family tried everything they could think of to keep the convicted murderer out of Pleasant Valley State Prison. Their big fear? Valley fever.
Valley fever pioneer remembered Saturday not only for his great contributions to treating the little-known disease, but for his deep love of people and humanity toward everyone he met.
Survivors and their loved ones walk to support research for valley fever. Physicians were also on hand at the event to answer questions about how the disease affects humans.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-California) seeks to get funding for valley fever vaccine research and is working with the CDC to get a clinical trial to determine best treatment for the disease.
California's Attorney General has questioned the feasibility of the federal order to move more than 3,000 inmates especially vulnerable to valley fever from two Central Valley prisons.
Officials say they need "further clarification" before they can implement an order from the federal receiver in charge of California's prison system that requires inmates vulnerable to valley fever be moved from Central Valley prisons.
State and experts are now digesting the directive for California's Department of Corrections to remove inmates from two Central Valley prisons, who are especially at risk of contracting valley fever.
Still, moving thousands of prisoners is a massive endeavor complicated by factors such as inmates’ security levels, and medical, mental health and rehabilitation needs.
Over the last seven years, 40 California state prisoners have died with valley fever as either the primary or the secondary cause of death. For this reason, the prison system has been ordered to transfer at risk inmates from two facilities in endemic areas.
As valley fever rates skyrocket in some Calif. prisons, experts and inmates alike question whether it’s fair to doubly punish people — once for a crime, and again with a severe disease.
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, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana, Hanford Sentinel, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, La Estrella de Tucsón and CenterforHealthJournalism.org. The collaborative is an initiative of the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.