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valley fever

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. 

Disease Experts Split On Benefits Of Valley Fever Bills Introduced This Week

Jan 18, 2018
Henry Barrios / The Bakersfield Californian

Advocates for valley fever research give California Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) an “A” for effort for what they call the most robust legislative effort to address the disease in California history. But public health officials and disease experts are split on whether the remedies proposed by Salas will bring improvements.

Salas Introduces 'Most Robust' Valley Fever Legislation In State's History

Jan 9, 2018
Office of Asm. Rudy Salas

Apparently undaunted by California Gov. Jerry Brown's October veto of legislation that would've brought new disease reporting guidelines and funding to the little-known respiratory disease known as valley fever, Assemblyman Rudy Salas has introduced an even more robust legislative package aimed at tackling the disease as cases rise to record highs in California.

Today on Valley Edition we hear a report about changes looming in Fresno's historic Chinatown neighborhood. Many roads in the area are already closed with construction on high-speed rail, and that's causing some concern among business owners. Yet others are optimistic about a brighter future ahead, with new community improvements, millions in cap-and-trade funding, new housing, and the future rail station. We also hear a report about the role the U.S. military has played in researching valley fever, much of which has taken place at Lemoore Naval Air Station.

Military's Early Valley Fever Research Still Benefiting Public Health Today

Dec 5, 2017
Lemoore Army Flying School Class 43B yearbook

In the city of Lemoore, a community of 25,000 rising out of arid cropland in California’s San Joaquin Valley, almost everyone has a story about valley fever.

Take Frank Bernhardt, nursing a beer at the Fleet Reserve bar on the edge of town. He first encountered the disease just after moving here in the 1960s. “Years ago, my youngest daughter had it. She just didn't have no energy,” he said.

“I had a sailor that worked for me that had it,” recalls Kevin Crownover, playing dice across the bar. “He probably missed about a week's worth of work.”

On this week's Valley Edition: It's been two years since the Summerset Village Apartments raised the issue of substandard rental housing in Fresno to a level city hall couldn't ignore.

Kern County Department of Public Health

New data from the California Department of Public Health show that cases of valley fever are on the rise across the state. The airborne fungal disease is also the subject of a new public awareness campaign in Kern County, featuring sheriff Donny Youngblood.

Kern County Announces New Awareness Campaign For Valley Fever

Nov 7, 2017
Center for Health Journalism Collaborative

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood grew up in Kern County. He hikes here, he rides horses here and he golfs here. He remembers elementary school field trips to Shark’s Tooth Hill to dig for relics here. He has done just about everything that could put him at risk for breathing in the coccidioidal fungal spore that causes valley fever, the insidious respiratory disease endemic to the area.

A relative got sick and died from the disease years ago after he was misdiagnosed. Then, a few months ago, Youngblood’s significant other got sick. Youngblood decided to get tested.

Valley Fever Advocates And Legislators Vow To ‘Press Harder' After Governor Rejects Critical Bill

Oct 24, 2017
Center for Health Journalism Collaborative

Even as valley fever cases are sharply increasing in Central California, Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed legislation that would have created programs to inform the public about the little-known respiratory disease.

Don’t Let Edie’s Death From Valley Fever Be In Vain, Her Sister Pleads

Sep 3, 2017
Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Initially, doctors thought Edie Preller had pneumonia, then tuberculosis, or maybe bronchitis. They quarantined her and ran tests. Six months later they discovered that she had inhaled a deadly spore from a fungus that grows throughout the region. The spore caused a disease called valley fever, which spread from her lungs into her brain.

Preller had been an in-home health care worker, taking care of other people who were ill. Then, in her 50s, she ended up in a losing battle for her own life, spending her last three years in and out of a hospital.

Just One Breath: States Skimp On Valley Fever Awareness

Aug 28, 2017
Henry Barrios / The Bakersfield Californian

Valley fever infects more than 13,000 people annually in Arizona and California and kills more than 100. Yet the two states spend less on public awareness about the disease in one year than what the Bakersfield City School District spends on lunch milk for a month and less than what Pima County’s Parks and Recreation Department spent on janitorial supplies in 2016.

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