Valley Fever Deaths Prompts Inmate Removal Order

prisonguardA federal receiver, overseeing California’s troubled prisons ordered officials to move hundreds of inmates out of two Central Valley prisons to avoid the risk of death from Valley Fever, which has already killed dozens of prisoners. The danger of contracting Valley Fever in two of California’s prisons is so “unacceptably high” that avoidable inmate deaths have resulted and inmates at risk should be moved.  That was the conclusion of an Arizona doctor who specializes in infectious diseases and found 53 inmate deaths between 2006-2013.

Medical receiver J. Clark Kelso responded to the report by Dr. John N. Galgiani, by ordering the state to move inmates at risk of the disease out of the area, particularly African-American and Filipino prisoners who are considered more susceptible. And it included inmates with chronic medical conditions or those with suppressed immune systems, including inmates with HIV and diabetes.

Valley Fever is caused by an airborne fungus that can cause respiratory illness that lasts weeks or months.  In a small percentage of cases it may cause severe pneumonia or the fungus may spread to other parts of the body, including skin, bones and central nervous system.  These symptoms can be fatal, according to Galgiani.

Between 2006-2010 there were 27 inmate deaths related to Valley Fever. In 2011 another  eight inmates died, and for 2012 and the first month of 2013, 18 inmates died of Valley Fever, according to the report.

This will place added pressure on state prison system, which is under federal court orders to reduce its prison population by 9,000 inmates by the end of the year to meet prison population caps set by a panel of three federal judges.

Kelso said the Department of Corrections must remove those high risk inmates from Avenal and PleasantValley state prisons.

Inmates at PleasantValley, in FresnoCounty, had a rate 1,000 times higher than Californians in general, and 600 times higher than the population of FresnoCounty, according to an 80-page report by Galgiani.

Avenal prison saw a rate 189 times higher than the county average.

Over a two-year period, at least 355 inmates required hospitalization for Valley Fever infection, at an estimated cost of $23 million for treatment.

Valley Fever is generally isolated to the Southern San Joaquin Valley and parts of the Southwest U.S.

In addition, Galgiani called for an investigation by the National Institute for Occupational safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Case: Plata v. Brown, No. C01-1351TEH