Already is disarray, the California prison system now faces an unprecedented order to evacuate thousands of vulnerable prisoners from two state facilities where Valley Fever is endemic.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that medical receiver J. Clark Kelso has ordered the state corrections department to relocate prisoners at risk of the fungal illness from the Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons. About 40 percent of the two prison’s total population of 8,200 are affected by the order.
Valley Fever is an illness caused by a fungus or mold called Coccidioides. The fungal spores are found in the soil of the American southwest, and patients are infected by inhaling dust containing those spores. In many patients, there are no symptoms while others have a mild, flu-like illness. In patients with compromised immune systems and certain ethnic groups, a more serious illness is possible.
Coccidioidomycosis or Valley Fever, even in its mild form, may last for months, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The illness is not contagious. It is treated with anti-fungal medications. Complications include lung damage, neurological issues and even death. Medical receiver Kelso’s office has identified 62 prisoner deaths from Valley Fever in the period 2006 to 2013, the Chronicle reported yesterday.
Those most at risk from the fungal infection in the California prison population include those who are HIV positive, over age 55, or black or Filipino. The Los Angeles Times quotes estimates that suggest the evacuation order applies to 3,280 inmates. California is already under a court order to reduce its overall prison population by an additional 9,000 inmates. It is unclear how the state could comply with the receiver’s evacuation order, or if the receiver has the authority to issue such an order.