California taxpayers are spending millions of dollars annually on the treatment of state prison inmates with valley fever, New America Media reports (New America Media, 10/14).
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, 9/13).
Valley Fever Cases Among Inmates
In 2005, the rate of valley fever among inmates in Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga was 600 times the rate of valley fever in Fresno County.
Seven other state prisons in San Joaquin Valley also have seen high rates of valley fever.
After the Pleasant Valley outbreak, the prison health system took preventive steps -- such as sending vulnerable inmates to prisons outside the region. However, the rate of valley fever has continued to climb.
Cost of Treating Inmates With Valley Fever
California Correctional Health Care Services spends about $23 million annually to send inmates with valley fever to hospitals outside the prison, to guard those patients and to cover their antifungal treatments.
That total does not include the cost of treating valley fever inside the prisons or the costs associated with the long-term care of patients who have complications from valley fever, such as meningitis.
The majority of those costs occur at eight prisons in the San Joaquin area with high rates of valley fever.
Former state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) often cited the high costs of valley fever when advocating for funds for vaccine research. However, state lawmakers stopped funding such research when Ashburn left office (New America Media, 10/14).