NEW YORK TIMES, Saturday December 29:
COALINGA, Calif. — When any of the 5,300 inmates at Pleasant Valley State Prison begin coughing and running a fever, doctors do not think flu, bronchitis or even the common cold.
They think valley fever; and, more often than they would like, they are right.
In the past three years, more than 900 inmates at the prison have contracted the 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.
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.
About 80 prison employees have also contracted the fever, Pleasant Valley officials say
The epidemic at the prison has led to a clash of priorities for a correctional system that is dealing with below average medical care and chronic overcrowding.
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.
The disease also affects inmate morale, doctors say.
Gilbert Galaviz was convicted of murder and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life. Mr. Galaviz had been at Pleasant Valley for a week or so when he started to feel sick. “I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “My chest starting hurting, I had pain all over like somebody beat me up, and I would sweat bad at night.”
After six months, Mr. Galaviz is still weak, having lost 30 pounds, and is barely able to complete a lap in the prison yard. Earlier this month, he was attacked and his jaw broken.
“It wouldn’t have been like that if it hadn’t been for valley fever,” Mr. Galaviz said, his jaw still wired shut. “They wouldn’t have got me. It would have been the other way around.”