Valley Fever: Inmates In Calif. Prisons At Risk Of Deadly Fungal Infection, State Mandates Relocation Of 2,600 Prisoners [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 5, 2013 5:12 PM EDT

valley fever
Valley fever is a deadly fungal infection that is wreaking havoc on California's San Joaquin Valley, where a number of the state's major prisons are located. (Photo: Reuters.)

Valley fever, a dangerous airborne fungal infection that has cropped up in California and Arizona, causes skin lesions, pneumonia and even stroke. Last week, a federal judge ordered state prisons in California's San Joaquin Valley, a mostly rural valley halfway between Los Angeles and Sacramento where much of the state's agriculture is produced, to relocate 2,600 prison inmates who are susceptible to contracting the horrible infection.

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Valley fever, known in medical circles as coccidioidomycosis, or cocci for short, affects some 20,000 people annually; about 160 of these cases are fatal. The fungus spawns in the valley's soil, and its spores are dispersed via the wind, eventually finding harbor in the moist parts of the human lungs. It causes fever, chest pain and coughing, and can also spread and eat away at the bones, eyes, skin and even the brain.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, which has labeled the infection a "silent epidemic," about 9 percent of people who contract valley fever will develop pneumonia, and 1 percent will experience severe complications elsewhere in the body. From CDC:

At least 30% - 60% of people who live in an endemic region are exposed to the fungus at some point during their lives. In most people the infection will go away on its own, but for people who develop severe infections or chronic pneumonia, medical treatment is necessary. Certain groups of people are at higher risk of developing severe disease. It is difficult to avoid exposure to Coccidioides, but people who are at higher risk should try to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they are in endemic areas.

The San Joaquin Valley is home to a number of California's prisons, mainly because of the remoteness of the valley's location. That's why prison inmates are particularly vulnerable to valley fever, and why the state mandated the transfer of 2,600 prisoners over the next 90 days.

"If this were a factory, a public university or a hotel - anything except a prison - they would shut these two places down," Donald Specter, the executive director of the Prison Law Office, which provides free legal assistance to inmates, told the New York Times.

Read more from iScience Times:

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Contaminated Tattoo Ink Caused Skin Infections, FDA Says

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