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Why Are People Still Dying From Valley Fever

and Tens of Thousands Getting Sick?
  

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 cases reach epidemic levels, but harm remains hidden

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.

Disease sidetracks girl with dreams of dancing

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.

Just One Breath: Valley Fever Science Catches Up with the News

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.

Valley fever basics

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 cases missed because of lack of awareness

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.

Changing Climate May Expand Valley Fever’s Impact

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.

When valley fever struck celebrated winemaker, doctors missed it

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.

Putting Valley Fever on the Front Burner

How does knowledge about unfamiliar diseases enter the public consciousness and the public policy agenda?

The Faces and Voices of Valley Fever

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

Valley Fever Stories: Patients Speak Out

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

Videos: The Faces and Voices of Valley Fever

Beginning this weekend, we explore the human cost of this disease by asking those who are suffering to share their stories.

Valley Fever Costs Mount for Patients and Taxpayers

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.

Valley fever forces police captain to give up his badge

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.

Taxpayers spend millions on valley fever in prisons

Californians are locked into contributing millions to treat the rising number of prisoners sickened by valley fever.

Editorial: Follow Rubio's lead on valley fever funding

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."

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.
g  Dr. Demosthenes Pappagianis in the lab with his research staff inside Tupper Hall at University of California, Davis. Photo by Brian Baer/Special To The Sacramento Bee

Valley Fever Vaccine Stalls

After years of promising developments, the effort to produce a valley fever vaccine was all but terminated because of a lack of funding and industry interest. Yet some still hope to see a vaccine on the market.

Valley Fever: What's Stopping The Vaccine?

There are arguments for developing a valley fever vaccine, but it can’t happen without a breakthrough in research — or more public funding.
Seven-year-old Emily Gorospe, who has valley fever, cradles her doll as she rests in the arms of her mother, Valerie, at the Kern County Public Health Services Department during a town hall meeting on valley fever. By Felix Adamo / The Californian

Forum Highlights the Many Challenges to Taking on Valley Fever

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.

Just One Breath: How Hope for a Valley Fever Vaccine Crashed into Reality

The quest for a valley fever vaccine is losing ground as its leading scientists near retirement and funding remains scarce.

La Fiebre del Valle, que Puede ser Letal, Crece en el Valle de San Joaquín y Arizona

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.

Valley Fever: Scientists took different routes to find vaccine

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.

Radio Programs Carry Crucial Valley Fever Information Across the State

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.

Just One Breath: Valley fever treatments can do harm as they heal

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?

Just One Breath: Public Health Champion Felled by Diabetes and Valley Fever

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.

Valley fever takes an animal toll

Zoo animals, pets and animals in the wild contract valley fever the same way people do, by inhaling spores from a fungus.

Misdiagnosis of valley fever prolongs the suffering

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.

Suffering, Misdiagnosis and Pain: Community members share valley fever stories

Just what is valley fever? The ReportingOnHealth.org 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.

Congressional task force to aid valley fever fight

Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy made another move in his crusade against valley fever Wednesday, announcing the new “Congressional Valley Fever Task Force.”

Just One Breath: Five Ways to Move the Fight Against Valley Fever Forward

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.

CDC Plans a Valley Fever Public Health Campaign in San Joaquin Valley

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.

Valley fever uptick demands attention

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.
Lab assistant Erin Scott with the Kern County Public Health Services Department places valley fever patient samples into test trays. Photo: Casey Christie / The Californian

Valley fever cases skyrocketing, says CDC

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.

Just One Breath: Valley fever advocates see hope for new funding, new laws

Legislators are poised to take action on valley fever, a long-ignored disease that is the subject of a Reporting on Health Collaborative project.

Follow Rubio's lead on valley fever funding

Kudos to 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.

Valley fever crisis demands a champion

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.

State Raises Questions About Moving Inmates At Risk of Valley Fever

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.

State Prison Officials: Receiver's Valley Fever Policy 'Premature'

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.

Prison Health Advocates Call For More Steps to Stop Valley Fever Outbreak

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.

Experts hail step to move at-risk inmates out of valley fever hot spots

Still, moving thousands of prisoners is a massive endeavor complicated by factors such as inmates’ security levels, and medical, mental health and rehabilitation needs.
Kevin Walker acquired disseminated cocci while serving time at the federal prison in Taft. (Courtesy of Kevin Walker)

Just One Breath: Valley Fever Turns Short Prison Terms Into Lifelong Penalties

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.
About 40 percent of the inmates at Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons will be relocated, due to their risk of acquiring valley fever.

Inmates At Risk of Valley Fever To Be Moved From Two Valley Prisons

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.

Public pushes for new thinking in valley fever research

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.

Valley Fever Research Day Aims To Connect With Community

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.

Federal, local officials hopeful for 'new era' in valley fever

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.

Agencies to Launch Randomized Controlled Trial for Valley Fever

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.

Just One Breath: Valley fever movement could learn from health success stories

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?

Just One Breath: Valley fever’s human and financial costs detailed in new study

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.

Valley Fever Symposium

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.

Just One Breath: Valley Fever Deserves More Ink in Scientific Journals

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.

Inmates fearful as some are sent into valley fever prisons

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.
Casey Christie / The Bakersfield Californian A memorial was held for Dr. Hans Einstein at the end of the second valley fever walk Saturday at the Kern County Museum.

Valley fever trailblazer’s love of Bakersfield, people remembered by physicians, patients

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.
Casey Christie / The Bakersfield Californian The Bakersfield Condors hockey team mascot "Baby Cal," center, has fun with the walkers during the annual valley fever walk.

2nd annual valley fever awareness walk draws survivors out

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.

McCarthy: CDC to hold valley fever symposium

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.

About This Series

This project results from a new venture – the Reporting On Health collaborative – which involves the Bakersfield Californian, the Merced Sun-Star, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, The Record in Stockton, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana and ReportingonHealth.org. The collaborative is an initiative of The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Valley Fever Reaches Epidemic Levels, But Harm Remains Hidden

Changing Climate May Expand Valley Fever's Impact

THE FACES AND VOICES OF VALLEY FEVER

VALLEY FEVER COSTS MOUNT FOR PATIENTS AND TAXPAYERS

Valley Fever: The Search for an Effective Vaccine

Valley Fever Vaccine Stalls

Radio Programs Carry Crucial Valley Fever Information Across the State

Suffering, Misdiagnosis and Pain: Community members share valley fever stories

Valley Fever Blog

Government Response to Valley Fever

Prisoners at Risk

The Continuing Story