Valley Fever Rages On In California’s Prisons

Valley Fever Rages On In California’s Prisons

Concurrent with a recommendation from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to test all inmates at two California prisons for “Valley Fever,” a new multi-million dollar lawsuit filed in federal court calls these prisons “incubators” for the disease that has killed dozens of prisoners and prison employees over the last decade.

Prisoners confined at the Pleasant Valley and Avenal prisons located in the Central Valley area of California are 20 times more likely than the public at large to contract the Coccodioides fungal virus that is endemic in the soil of that area of California.  Called Valley Fever by many, the fungal infection is incurable and can be fatal.  Those who survive face a life of crippling joint pain, difficulty breathing, and skin lesions that require expensive medications to hold at bay.  While the CDC cites the Central Valley civilian infection rate as 241 per 100,000, the prisoner rate at Avenal prison equals 3,799 per 100,000, and at Pleasant Valley, it equates to 6,911 per 100,000.

Presently, California spends more than $23 million each year treating prisoners infected by Valley Fever.

The latest suit, filed in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of 58 current and former prisoners, accuses the state of doing little to address the sickness at the prisons despite knowing the problem for years.  Last year, in another Valley Fever suit, United States District Judge Thelton E. Henderson wrote that there “is no question that [prison officials] are aware of the substantial risk of serious harm” to prisoners confined at the facilities.  Judge Henderson ordered that certain prisoners at high risk for the disease be transferred, but others confined there still get sick.

The July 2014 recommendation of the CDC has not yet prompted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to begin testing large numbers of prisoners for the disease.  Don Specter, director of the non-profit Berkley-based Prison Law Office, says the state should start testing all inmates as soon as possible.  A skin test recommended by the CDC could prevent a projected 268 cases each year.

A CDCR spokeswoman says her agency is now “considering” the CDC’s study and recommendations.  According to Deborah Hoffman, CDCR “has been working to mitigate Valley Fever for years.”


(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)