valley fever

CA Dept of Corrections

Paul Richardson was in prison in Fresno County in the 1990s when he first heard about valley fever, a mysterious fungal disease that could be caught from inhaling spores in airborne dust. He came to learn, however, that his fellow inmates had their own name for it. “We called it ‘instant AIDS,’” he says. “A-I-D-S.”

It hits people like a brick wall. In rare cases, it kills them. “Within 30 days, you lost about 50 pounds,” Richardson says.

 

On this week’s Valley Edition: Former Fresno City Councilmember Oliver Baines is heading a new police reform commission. He shares his vision for the department, and talks about why previous efforts have fallen short. 

We also speak with men who survived a disease outbreak at Avenal State Prison, not COVID-19, but valley fever. It was almost a decade ago, and they’re still seeking justice today. 

Plus, parents discuss what it’s like to raise black children in the San Joaquin Valley. 

Valley Fever: A Terror In The Body, A 'Wimp' In The Soil

Apr 28, 2020
Lauren J. Young / Science Friday

The following excerpt is adapted from a segment about the fungal disease valley fever from the April 24, 2020 episode of the WNYC Studios show Science Friday. Read the rest of the piece here, and hear the full Science Friday segment including an interview with FM89's Kerry Klein here.

Lauren J. Young / Science Friday

For their episode on April 24, 2020, producers of the WNYC Studios show Science Friday turned their focus to the fungal disease valley fever - its origins and effects on the body, as well as burgeoning research and hope for new treatments.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Preliminary state data suggest nearly 8,700 Californians were diagnosed with valley fever in 2019, which would be a record high. The state’s highest case rate is consistently reported in Kern County where, this past weekend, one rural town held its first race to raise disease awareness.

On this week's Valley Edition: Doctors find an unconventional way to treat severe valley fever - it's the extraordinary story of a 4-year-old boy and a medical mystery. 

And writer Lisa Lee Herrick tells us how the Hmong New Year has evolved from a traditional harvest celebration to something much bigger - and why Fresno’s festivities continue to draw huge international crowds. We also hear from Fresno mayoral candidate Andrew Janz.

  

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

 

Researchers have been trying to understand valley fever for decades, but the playing field remained small until recently. 

“When I started in valley fever research just six or seven years ago, the field was largely full of professors and senior clinicians and really didn’t have many of the junior faculty and students as part of the group,” said Katrina Hoyer, an assistant professor at the University of California, Merced. “I think they really wanted people, there just wasn’t much funding.”

UCLA

 

Hundreds of children and their families cycle in and out of UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital each week, and yet Dr. Manish Butte still remembers the day almost two years ago when he met a young boy who could barely walk or talk and needed a feeding tube to eat. 

“We saw these very large lumps on his forehead, and the lumps were full of fungal infection and they were burrowing through the bones of his skull,” Butte said.

Rebecca Plevin / Valley Public Radio

The individual health care costs of a severe case of valley fever can be devastating. But with thousands of cases of the fungal disease each year in California, what’s the cost to society? A new study makes an astounding estimate.

Morgan Gorris / University of California, Irvine

The fungal disease valley fever is endemic to arid regions of the western United States, but new research suggests the areas where it’s found could rise along with global temperatures.

Kerry Klein / KVPR

For more than a decade, lawsuits have been piling up against California from inmates who contracted the fungal disease valley fever while incarcerated in state prison. Most plaintiffs have lost. Now, many of them are turning to a higher court.

Facebook page of Congressman Kevin McCarthy

In 2018, Kern County’s caseload of the fungal disease valley fever rose for the fourth year in a row, health officials recently announced. Simultaneously, a much-anticipated clinical trial related to the disease failed.

It was called the FLEET study, and it examined the effectiveness of early treatment on the course of the disease. Over a five-year period, researchers had hoped to enroll 1,000 patients. But about a year in, they only had 72. The trial was officially terminated last July.

Kern Public Health Services

Kern County has long been California’s epicenter for the fungal disease valley fever, and new data released Wednesday shows more people are contracting it.

The county’s valley fever caseload in 2018 was its second highest ever recorded, said Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine during a press conference Wednesday. Over 2,900 cases were reported last year, after a steady rise since 2015. “Unfortunately, this is the highest number of new cases we have had in Kern County in 27 years, since 1992,” he said.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

When Jennine Ochoa became pregnant at the end of 2017, she didn’t know what to expect. At 42, she’d waited longer than most women to start a family. But she said her first five months were easy. “I had no morning sickness, nothing,” she said. “It was completely uneventful until May.”

That’s when a dust storm rolled over her home in rural Tulare County in California’s arid San Joaquin Valley. “A week later I started coughing really bad,” she said. “The hardest I've ever coughed in my life, to the point where I was vomiting.” In just one week she said she lost 10 pounds.

Rudy Salas

Governor Brown has signed into law two bills related to the disease valley fever, both written by Kern County Assemblymember Rudy Salas.

The laws both aim to streamline the disease’s reporting guidelines, which until now have been inconsistent over time and among health agencies throughout the state.

One of the laws institutes a reporting deadline for the state public health department to collect data on cases. The other allows cases to be confirmed using blood tests only, without the need for a clinical diagnosis.

For Valley Fever Survivors, A Growing Need: Wigs

Aug 8, 2018
Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

In a small boutique in downtown Bakersfield, Brenda Blanton donned a styling gown and settled into a salon chair facing a mirror. Shop owner Kelly Giblin approached, not carrying scissors or a curling iron, but a small hairpiece resembling a dirty blonde bob with dark roots. “This is an amazing hairpiece,” Giblin said excitedly, clipping it onto Blanton’s thinning, shoulder-length hair. “We can put it on, trim it in, and it will blend with your hair and no one will ever now.”

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

A new bill in congress is aimed at preventing the fungal disease valley fever that’s endemic to Central and Southern California. 

The so-called FORWARD Act, introduced by Bakersfield Congressman and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, would establish a national valley fever working group and would award grants to entities researching the disease.

Creative Commons licensed from Flickr user Glenngould / http://www.flickr.com/photos/for_tea_too/1957375742/

Buried in California’s new $201 billion budget is important news for those with a disease that affects many here in Central California: $8 million in funding for valley fever research and awareness. For several years we’ve been reporting about this airborne fungal disease which is endemic to arid regions of the U.S. Southwest.  To learn more about what the new funding means and where it's going, and to get an update on the latest data on infections in 2018, we spoke to Valley Public Radio's Kerry Klein on Valley Edition. 

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Governor Brown signed the final budget of his tenure as governor on Wednesday, and included in it was funding aimed at combating the fungal disease valley fever.

The budget includes $8 million for research and outreach into the fungal disease that’s caused by inhaling spores that grow in arid soil.

Office of Asm. Rudy Salas

Two bills that could improve valley fever research made it one step closer to law on Thursday, passing out of the California Assembly and into the state Senate. 

The bills aim to streamline the state’s inconsistent reporting guidelines for valley fever, a fungal disease caused by inhaling spores that grow in arid soil. Reporting requirements for the disease vary by county, making it difficult to tally and study the disease burden across the state. 

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