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.

< Maybe Not Such A Media Darling: Obama Ads Criticized By Media | High Broderists Prepared To Spend Bloomberg's Money >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    the most forceful argument an inmate can make (none / 0) (#1)
    by scribe on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 07:06:19 PM EST
    in this situation is:  "Society sent me to prison because it deemed I had to be locked up.  I was not sent here to contract a preventable, avoidable disease which can be fatal or just cause me permanent injuries.  When I'm locked up, I can't do anything to protect myself - I am totally helpless and dependent upon the government to protect me from harm.  Anything which makes for more damage to me than merely locking me up, violates the Eighth Amendment".

    That's the syllogism from which the inmates should work - proposing solutions, talking about dust being stirred up, etc., is all well and good, but the core of it is, when the government wants to lock him up, it had made him totally dependent upon the government and is therefore totally responsible for avoiding the harms he's suffering.

    Inmate's burden of proof under (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 03:25:10 PM EST
    42 U.S.C. section 1983, Eighth Amendment, is deliberate indifference to serious medical need.

    I know what the burden is (none / 0) (#4)
    by scribe on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 03:42:42 PM EST
    and what the standard is - I've litigated those cases.

    What I was trying to communicate is the strongest frame for an argument to surmount that standard.  Once you frame the argument as "I got sent to jail to be confined, not killed/injured by some disease and, while in your thrall, I was killed/injured by some disease", just about anything preventable which is not prevented becomes "deliberate indifference to a serious medical need".


    At least at the state level, (none / 0) (#6)
    by oculus on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 06:29:55 PM EST
    as you know, the inmate has to sue the person, not the amorphous state.

    It's not a virsus (none / 0) (#2)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 10:10:36 PM EST
    from the link in the NYT article it's a fungus.

    Acute coccidioidomycosis is rare. In any given year, about 3% of people who live in an area where coccidiomycosis is commonly seen will develop the disease.

    Chronic pulmonary coccidioidomycosis can develop 20 or more years after initial infection which may not have been recognized, diagnosed, or treated at the time.

    It may also be a sign of HIV infection or other immunodeficiency disorders when it occurs in adults. Individuals with candida infections are not usually considered infectious to others, though in some settings transmission to immunocompromised people can occur.

    Bottom line. Scrub and rescrub everything in sight. Get rid of all dust in rooms, closets, cells, etc. Segregate all your immunocomprised people from the general population. Pass out the vitamins and make sure they get plenty of excercise to improve their general health.

    All sound suggestions, and (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 03:49:17 PM EST
    just as routinely ignored by jailers.

    In the cases of MRSA staph and similar, whole football teams (IIRC, the Rams) had to basically rip out their locker rooms when the bug (there, a bacterium) got into the place.  

    When a building gets mold (as mine recently did, after some flooding), all the affected drywall and wood and insulation has to be removed and replaced (we're in the middle of dealing with that and it's a mess) and even the paint on the walls (esp. if it's a latex, but not so much if an enamel, go figure) has to be removed.  Mold and fungus are, pretty much, the same thing.  How many jails are going to do all that, particularly if they are privately-run for-profit?

    Voluntarily?  Close to zero.

    When they get hit with huge suits?  More, maybe most.  

    But, some of the "24" fans running jails will see nothing wrong in letting the inmates get sick and die, and then fighting tooth and nail against the suits for recompense.


    Latex is water based (none / 0) (#8)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Dec 31, 2007 at 09:41:18 AM EST
    so it can't be completely "washed." Enamel is oil based.

    Simple household bleach mixed with water is an effective cleaner. Sprayed on with sprayers and later washed clean with a power washer. (Don't put bleach in your power washer, it will corrode the pump's seals and make the machine useless.)

    After an area is cleaned, keep it dry.

    As for the prisoners, you'd have a hard time convincing me that they wouldn't live in Phoenix if they were released, so what's the reason for moving them? (The issue of cleanliness is another issue.)


    My brother, (none / 0) (#7)
    by Maggie Mae on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 11:33:48 PM EST
    who was HIV and lived in Phoenix (one of the most prevalent areas of exposure), contracted Valley Fever, shortly before he passed away.  I'm not sure he even knew he had it.  

    He was taken to the hospital because he was having mini-strokes and had also developed AIDS dementia.  At first, from the x-ray, the doctors weren't sure if he had lung cancer or an infection, which is common.  They did the biopsy (no cancer) and then the regular tests (Valley Fever), and finally, because of his deteriorated, physical state,  they did a spinal tap to make sure it hadn't spread (it hadn't).  They put him on an antifungal medication, but said, however long he lived, that because of his HIV status, he'd never fully be rid of it and it could flare up again.  

    I had never heard of this infection, until he was diagnosed with it.  So, I immediately did a search and found the Mayo Clinic site very informative and helpful.  

    I think of all those senior citizens, who move to the southwest each year and wonder if they know about Valley Fever and the risks of exposure and how, the older they get, the more susceptible they are to becoming seriously ill from it?

    There is a group that is raising money to find a vaccine.


    Valley Fever is rare (none / 0) (#9)
    by katmandu on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 06:56:14 PM EST
    Its a bizarre disease, it affects animals as well
    as humans.  My Mom's dog died of valley fever
    over a two year span, none of her other dogs,
    neighbor's dogs or any humans developed it.
    It can hit one family member and spare the rest.
    I think it is often misdiagnosed.
    I don't believe it is the state's fault, the
    disease is part of the southwest soil.  Every
    time a person steps out into the open they are
    exposed to the soil.  The prisoners cannot be
    kept confined inside 24/7.  
    It would be like sueing for colds, flu or