Fungal Infection Hits 900 California Inmates, Will Continue to Spread
This sounds like a prelude to a scene out of "I am Legend" where Will Smith is the last man alive after a virus breaks out. Only it's real, and it's happening in California prisons.
In the past three years, more than 900 inmates at the prison have contracted [Valley] fever, a fungal infection that has been both widespread and lethal. At least a dozen inmates here in Central California have died from the disease, which is on the rise in other Western states, including Arizona, where the health department declared an epidemic after more than 5,500 cases were reported in 2006, including 33 deaths.
It's not just inmates who are contracting Valley Fever which appears to be spread through soil in areas of the Southwest.
Endemic to parts of the Southwest, valley fever has been reported in recent years in a widening belt from South Texas to Northern California. The disease has infected archaeologists digging at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and dogs that have inhaled the spores while sniffing for illegal drugs along the Mexican border.
In most cases, the infection starts in the lungs and is usually handled by the body without permanent damage. But serious complications can arise, including meningitis; and, at Pleasant Valley, the scope of the outbreak has left some inmates permanently disabled, confined to wheelchairs and interned in expensive long-term hospital stays.
So far, 80 guards have also been stricken, including one who died.
What makes the disease all the more troubling is that its cause is literally underfoot: the spores that cause the infection reside in the region’s soil. When that soil is disturbed, something that happens regularly where houses are being built, crops are being sown and a steady wind churns, those spores are inhaled. The spores can also be kicked up by Mother Nature including earthquakes and dust storms.
....In about 2 percent to 3 percent of the cases, the disease spreads from the lungs and can attack the bones, liver, spleen and skin....Inmates appear to be especially susceptible to the disease, in part because they come from areas all over the state and have not developed an immunity to the disease.
Why doesn't California take the obvious solution: Shut down the prison and move the inmates to a safer area until facilities can be built in other parts of the state? Even if they don't care about the welfare of the inmates, look at the cost:
At Pleasant Valley, officials say the outbreak of valley fever places a burden on the institution, requiring guards to escort inmates to local hospitals, where stays can last months and result in medical and security costs of $1 million and more, said Dr. Igbinosa, the medical director.
Wait till they get hit with lawsuits -- by the guards as well as the inmates. That $1 million figure will multiply fast.
If California doesn't shut the place down, I hope someone files a federal lawsuit and gets a judge to close it and order the inmates moved.
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