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CDC Gets Involved in Valley Fever Outbreak at Two Calif. Prisons

CDC this week began investigating the deaths of more than three dozen California inmates who had contracted valley fever, a fungal disease, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The deaths occurred at two state prisons -- Avenal and Pleasant Valley -- in San Joaquin Valley.

The investigation comes after federal receiver J. Clark Kelso -- who is charged with monitoring the state's prison health care system -- ordered the relocation of about 3,200 high-risk inmates from the two prisons (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 5/1).

About Valley Fever

Researchers estimate that more than 150,000 people nationwide contract valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, each year.

The cocci fungus is commonly found in soil in much of the Southwestern U.S., and is especially common in California's Central Valley.

People can contract valley fever by breathing in cocci fungal spores (California Healthline, 10/15/12).

Current Outbreak

Joyce Hayhoe, spokesperson for Kelso, said the court receiver last year recommended that high-risk inmates not be transferred to the San Joaquin Valley prisons (Bernstein, Reuters, 5/1).

Kelso has said that African Americans have a 90% increased risk of catching the disease, inmates over age 55 have a 60% higher risk and Latino prisoners have a 30% increased risk. He also said some people with diabetes are at a higher risk of catching the disease (Los Angeles Times, 5/1).

Jeffrey Callison -- a spokesperson for the state Corrections Department -- said the state did not stop sending at-risk prisoners to the two facilities after Kelso's recommendation last year.

According to Callison, moving more than 3,200 inmates now would be "an enormous undertaking" (Reuters, 5/1).  

Valley fever also has sickened 28 workers who were constructing solar power plants in California this year (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/1).

CDC Investigation

On Tuesday, CDC staff met with California prison health officials after the state officially asked for federal assistance last week. Another meeting is planned for Thursday (Los Angeles Times, 5/1).

Kelso in court papers filed Wednesday accused the state of having an "anemic" response to the valley fever outbreak.

John Galgiani -- a physician and valley fever expert who was hired by attorneys representing the inmates -- in a court filing said the number of illnesses at the two prisons constitute a "medical emergency."

Galgiani added that the rate of valley fever infections at Pleasant Valley was "1,000 times" higher than the rate for the state of California (Reuters, 5/1).

Implications

The directive to move more than 3,200 prisoners might complicate Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) efforts to reduce crowding in the state's 33 prisons.

The court-ordered plans are due Thursday (Los Angeles Times, 5/1).

This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
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