Search form

Sections

Town hall to explore the costs, human impact of valley fever

Fellowship Story Showcase

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.

Photo credit: Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle
Town hall to explore the costs, human impact of valley fever
Reporting on Health Collaborative
Friday, September 28, 2012 - 11:00am

BY RACHEL COOK, Californian staff writer
rcook [at] bakersfield [dot] com

A series of recent stories in The Californian highlighting the devastating impact of valley fever on sufferers and taxpayers is garnering the attention of doctors, community groups and even a lawmaker who hopes to get the state to invest in a vaccine.

State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, is planning a valley fever town hall meeting of health officials to be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Kern County Public Health Services Department building, 1800 Mount Vernon Ave.

Rubio said he hopes to gather enough information this fall to craft legislation moving the state toward helping fund a vaccine. That will actually save money in the long run, he said.

Patients are losing their livelihoods and taxpayers are spending tens of millions of dollars a year fighting valley fever after infection, the series has detailed.

"I believe it's going to present a very compelling case why we need to make investments today in developing the vaccine," Rubio said.

Rubio also has personal experience with the disease. His younger brother's bout with valley fever last year knocked him out of training to become a Kern County sheriff's deputy.

"Valley fever has been an issue that for someone like myself, who (grew up) in Kern County, you're always aware of it," Rubio said.

Valley fever has been spotlighted in "Just One Breath: A special valley fever report" launched by The Californian and its many partners in the new Reporting on Health Collaborative.

The continuing series has been delving into the rise in valley fever cases, costs of treating the illness and lack of funding for a vaccine. It's also been telling the personal stories of those stricken by the sometimes fatal disease caused by fungal spores that live in soil.

Dr. Navin Amin, an infectious disease specialist and chairman of family medicine and pediatrics at Kern Medical Center, said the newspaper series has featured precise and outstanding data and highlighted eye-opening cases.

The doctor hopes the reporting could lead to better diagnosis of the illness by prompting physicians to be more aware of the possibility of valley fever when they treat patients and encouraging patients to ask their doctors to test them for valley fever.

Amin's main frustration is treating patients who could have been diagnosed earlier.

"We tell (our residents) that if you are planning to practice in the Central Valley, valley fever should be the number one disease you think about in any patient that comes to you," Amin said.

Amin will present various valley fever cases at a two-hour physician education program for Kaiser Permanente doctors in November. The activity is part of Kaiser's routine practice of presenting education programs for its doctors, said Linda Ephrom, manager of Kaiser Permanente's Professional Staff office in Kern County.

The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in Delano is also planning a valley fever event.

"Whatever it takes to get more people to understand what it is and how serious (valley fever is) is what I hope we can do," said Valerie Gorospe, a community organizer for the group.

"I would hope (an event) would happen this year just because (valley fever has) been in the media so much and it would be a good time to catch onto that momentum."

The series has featured the struggle of Gorospe's daughter, Emily, with valley fever.

"I know it's (the reporters') jobs but it just seems like there's more attention being put on (valley fever) now, which is fabulous," Gorospe said.

Jessica Einstein, daughter of the prominent late valley fever researcher Dr. Hans Einstein and director of communications for the Valley Fever Americas Foundation, said "it's mind blowing" to see valley fever getting so much ink. In the future, Einstein would like to see a brief valley fever segment included in schools' curriculum and great awareness among doctors about the symptoms of valley fever.

She stressed that testing for the disease is relatively cheap.

"Hopefully the series of articles can make the physicians more aware...that they should be hypersensitive to the issue," she said.

Photo credit: Daniel Casarez/Vida en el Valle

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.

RELATED STORIES THIS WEEK

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’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.

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?