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The City Where People Are Afraid To Breathe 243

Posted by Soulskill
from the uninspiring-nickname dept.
HonorPoncaCityDotCom writes "BBC reports that cases of an incurable illness called valley fever are multiplying at an alarming and mystifying rate in the American south-west. Few places have been hit as hard as Avenal, a remote city of 14,000 people, nestling in a dip in the floor of the San Joaquin Valley in what experts refer to as a 'hot zone' for coccidioidomycosis — an illness caused by the inhalation of tiny fungal spores that usually reside in the soil. 'On windy days you are more conscious of it,' says Enrique Jimenez. 'You breathe in through your nose, and try not to breathe in as much dust. I worked in the fields for a long time, my father managed a few crops out here, and we took precautions, wearing bandanas.' Valley Fever is not easy to treat. Anti-fungal drugs are available for serious cases but some patients don't respond and it can take years to clear up. It never leaves the body and symptoms can be triggered again. Some patients are on the drugs for life, at a crippling financial cost. During World War II, German prisoners held at a camp in Arizona fell ill. Germany reportedly invoked the Geneva Convention to try to get them moved. Longstanding concerns about valley fever were heightened recently when a federal health official ordered the transfer of more than 3,000 exceptionally vulnerable inmates from two San Joaquin Valley prisons where several dozen have died of the disease in recent years. Dale Pulde, a motorcycle mechanic in Los Angeles County, said he contracted the disease three years ago after traveling to Bakersfield in Kern County and was coughing so hard he was blacking out; he spit blood and couldn't catch his breath. For two months, doctors tested him for everything from tuberculosis to cancer until blood tests confirmed he had the fever. 'When I found out that health officials knew about (this disease) and how common it is, I was beside myself,' said Pulde. 'Why don't they tell people?'"
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The City Where People Are Afraid To Breathe

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  • hmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DFurno2003 (739807) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:03PM (#44310291)
    BBC is the closest news network to cover it?
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      BBC is the closest news network to cover it?

      I live in California and the first broadcaster I heard of the Asiana aircraft crash at SFO was the BBC World Service.

      On topic - I drive through Avenel a number of times each year. All the better reason to keep the windows rolled up, the sunroof closed and be glad my car has an air filter on the ventilation intake.

      • I too drive through there a couple of times a year. I do all of the above plus put the HVAC system on Recirculate rather than pulling outside air.
      • by tibit (1762298)

        Hopefully you'll remember to replace that filter after driving through that place. All while following proper PPE precautions as said filter has a high concentration of pathogens on it. Right? Yeah, right :/

    • npr shots (Score:5, Informative)

      by westlake (615356) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @02:02PM (#44310813)

      BBC is the closest news network to cover it?

      Cases Of Mysterious Valley Fever Rise In American Southwest [npr.org] [May 13]

      Valley Fever Outbreaks Lead California to Move Inmates [go.com] [July 5]

    • It's common knowledge in the SW, but likely generates lots of clicks for the BBC.

    • Re:hmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mike Frett (2811077) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @02:20PM (#44310979)

      American media are busy trying to inform you of the NSA being the good guys on their five-hour long morning show. Later, they want you to know about the upcoming season of Honey Boo Boo. After they tell you all this they want to show you some Commercials so you can buy a Laptop with Windows 8. After the break they want to have a sit-down with some self-proclaimed former attorney that will explain to you why the Jury was wrong about the Zimmerman verdict, they'll be sure to spend two whole hours with limited Commercial breaks on that fiasco.

    • BBC is the closest news network to cover it?

      You must be new to the United States media, where the local TV devotes far more airtime to crucial stories such as fucking Zippy the Wonder Dog which does backflips and where the local Pravda newspaper devotes front 5 pages to a local recycling effort. If you're lucky, I mean really really lucky, the local Prava may, just may, have an article buried in page A15 of a 30 page section to 2 paragraphs on something which may affect you.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        That's because no one reads newspapers any more, and TV news has always been more like infotainment than facts.

        Not that the Internet is much better, but there are enough sources that you at least can piece together something useful with enough effort.

    • by popeye44 (929152)
      Well, I'm a bit closer but not a source of News. I live in Fresno which is 35 or so miles from the town mentioned. However I have lived in the valley almost all my life as has most of my family. My Mother however who lived in Oregon until she was a teen has had Valley Fever. Not a single other person in my family (on mother or fathers side across uncles and aunts) have ever had it. My Fathers family farmed and lived in the dust. I myself have ran open loaders, graders, tractors and all sorts of equipment in
  • Valley fever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mendax (114116) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:06PM (#44310323)

    As if the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation doesn't have enough problems on its hands being forced to downsize the population of its myriad gulags, they have two prisons near Ground Zero of this disease and several more in the general vicinity. It would not be surprising if they are forced by a court eventually to close these prisons because of valley fever. I, for one, would be pleased to see a reversal in the trend in the United States to imprison instead of rehabilitate those who are eminently rehabilitatable.

    • Re:Valley fever (Score:5, Informative)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:10PM (#44310359) Homepage Journal

      I, for one, would be pleased to see a reversal in the trend in the United States to imprison instead of rehabilitate those who are eminently rehabilitatable.

      Not going to happen, so long as we have people making money from an industrial prison complex.

      Potheads and repeat offenders are their bread-and-butter.

    • Re:Valley fever (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:23PM (#44310491) Journal

      The real problem is not prison population. The real problem is that urban areas like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco ship their prisoners to the Central Valley (more recently Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma) because they do not want to pay for a prison in their own urban centers. Lower land costs, lower utility costs, and lower cost of living/labor makes the Central Valley a better place to house prisoners.

      My father-in-law works at one of these Central Valley prisons, and I can tell you that his entire prison (3,000) does not fall within the category of rehabilitation. The entire prison is for people who were transferred from other prisons for murdering another prisoner or who were convicted of murder prior to being jailed. Not exactly the type of people that respond well to counseling and talk therapy. More like the kind of people that would stab you with a metal pen.

      • by tragedy (27079)

        The entire prison is for people who were transferred from other prisons for murdering another prisoner...

        Murder before entering prison is one thing, I take "murders" committed after being imprisoned with a grain of salt since there are quite a few jurisdictions where the courts have upheld that prisoners have no right of self-defense.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        It's not a prison problem. It just happens that there are a couple prisons near where there is a current outbreak. This disease is also endemic in Arizona. So what happens when you move the prisoners to Phoenix and a big outbreak happens there? Or move them to LA and an outbreak happens there? It's called San Joaquin Velly Fever but only because that's where it first became widely known to the general public, but it is endemic to huge swaths of the south west.

    • I, for one, would be pleased to see a reversal in the trend in the United States to imprison instead of rehabilitate those who are eminently rehabilitatable.

      What is your plan for rehabilition? Serious question.

      • I, for one, would be pleased to see a reversal in the trend in the United States to imprison instead of rehabilitate those who are eminently rehabilitatable.

        What is your plan for rehabilition? Serious question.

        Detox, a focus on education while in the system, and removal of post-release punishments (like not being able to vote) are a good place to start.

        • by Nadaka (224565)

          Add mental health care and therapy to that. Fix the economic incentives and personal problems that can lead back to crime and you could very well create responsible citizens.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      It would not be surprising if they are forced by a court eventually to close these prisons because of valley fever.

      It would not be surprising, because it's already happened [kqed.org].

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Vallely Fever comes and goes. It is not "common" so a lot of doctors don't know about it or know to test for it. There isn't a ground zero for it, it's endemic all over the southwest and into Mexico. This includes the entire state of Arizona and the southern half of California. No one knows why there's a current spike in King's County. This is not a disease restricted to dumb people in rural areas, it can strike in cities as well, even places where hipsters live. The problem is exacerbated due to igno

  • by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:07PM (#44310333) Journal

    From the summary:

    It never leaves the body and symptoms can be triggered again.

    From the linked article [wikipedia.org]

    The infection ordinarily resolves leaving the patient with a specific immunity to re-infection.

    Both cannot be true.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As an infected person, I can tell you the wikipedia article is incorrect. For more information visit valleyfeversurvivor.org.

      • I really dig that scrolling menu bar at the top of your website.

      • by asmkm22 (1902712)

        Thanks, I've always wondered what it would be like to time travel back to the late 90's.

      • by asdfman2000 (701851) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:53PM (#44310765)
        As another "infected person", valleyfeversurvivor.org Is filled with misinformation and fear-mongering. The community is filled with hypochondriacs blaming everything from smelly farts to tooth loss on the disease.

        Valley fever is no more dangerous than the flu. Most people who get it recover on their own with no complications and sometimes without even realizing they had it. Rare cases result in long term problems or death, but again, those are extremely rare.

        Talk to your doctor if you have questions.
        • by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:58PM (#44312955) Journal

          I have a chronic form of Valley Fever, and I can attest that it is no joke. It might be true that on average it is less dangerous than the flu, but for some people it is much, much worse than the flu. If you restrict your domain to people who "actually suffer" from Valley Fever, then within that population, it is a very serious disease. So I guess you can play around with words and call Valley Fever a very common, mild disease, or a very rare, serious disease. If you call just the disseminated form of the disease Valley Fever, then it's usually fatal. Your statements are just not fair to people who suffer serious complications from the disease.

          I think it's fairer to consider Valley Fever to be a rare, serious disease than a common benign disease because the difference between an asymptomatic infection and a chronic sufferer is so great.

    • by mendax (114116)

      From the summary:

      It never leaves the body and symptoms can be triggered again.

      From the linked article [wikipedia.org]

      The infection ordinarily resolves leaving the patient with a specific immunity to re-infection.

      Both cannot be true.

      Yes they can. The body can obtain an immunity to it but not completely leave. Think HIV or the various herpes viruses.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Qzukk (229616)

      Both cannot be true.

      The Shingles [wikipedia.org] says they can.

    • by asdfman2000 (701851) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:36PM (#44310603)
      There are multiple forms of infection. I recently got taken out by this for about a week and had to go on intense anti-fungal meds. Most people just get a minor rash and flu-like symptoms and it goes away on its own. Few even realize they had it.

      There is a form that basically remains dormant in your system for the rest of your life, however it's rare and mostly only affects immunocompromised people.

      Some people treat Valley Fever like some doomsday infection, and some sites like valleyfeversurvivor.org have communities of people acting like it's the source of all their health problems regardless of whether or not it's actually true.
      • Exactly. Not all coccidioidomycosis is created equally. But "rare and immune-compromised" doesn't make for flashy headlines.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They can certainly be true.

      The infection is growing fungus in your lungs. The symptoms are caused by the fungus physically being there.

      Specific Immunity means immunity to only that specific strain, and not any mutations of it, which happen regularly, and in parallel. It's even possible to be immediately re-infected with a different strain if exposed to the same conditions.

      It also doesn't remove the crap that has built up in your lungs - which at a later date can cause irritation, and a resurgence of sympt

    • From the summary:

      It never leaves the body and symptoms can be triggered again.

      From the linked article [wikipedia.org]

      The infection ordinarily resolves leaving the patient with a specific immunity to re-infection.

      Both cannot be true.

      isn't this the case with chicken pox? I had it as a kid. I'm now immune. As i understand it, the virus is still lurking within me and can make a comeback at some point, if i am severely weakened, as shingles.

    • by sjames (1099)

      yes, they can be and are both true.

      SOME infected people never develop symptoms at all. Others develop severe flu-like symptoms and then clear the infection. less fortunate individuals develop a chronic infection which may never be cleared. Still less fortunate people develop the chronic disseminated form of the disease.

      Perhaps you should try reading more than the introduction to the linked article. All of this is in there.

      • And "less fortunate" individuals can develop a chronic infection from the common cold and have a lasting impact. Where are the Doomsday articles about the dangers of the common cold?

        The important facts of the story are simple, millions of people live and travel through this area (lived in the central valley for the first 10 years of my life) and never develop symptoms. A small percentage, small enough that people still live and travel here, develop symptoms that have a small chance of death, a href=http:/

        • by sjames (1099)

          The problem is that you claimed that it was IMPOSSIBLE for both to be true, not that the mild course is by far the more common (it is). You are as guilty as TFA in the other direction.

    • The common cold.

      Your body becomes immune to the virus after infection. However, there are so many variants of the virus that manifest as 'the common cold' that people average true virus induced 'colds' once per year.

  • Because of the San Joaquin Valley Chamber of Commerce?

    Beware of property owners' rights trumping everything else.

  • If Doc Holiday had this instead of his diagnosed tuberculosis.
    • [I wonder] If Doc Holiday had this instead of his diagnosed tuberculosis.

      Doubtful since he was living in Atlanta when he contracted TB and moved out West in the hopes it would improve his symptoms.

  • First thing I thought of, really.

  • And you guys thought those Clickers were fiction...
  • by Entropius (188861) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:19PM (#44310435)

    I lived for a while in Tucson. Pretty much anyone who's outdoors in the desert much is likely to get it; in most people there are either no symptoms or flu-like symptoms. My PhD advisor had to have major surgery, and in the pre-surgery physical they found some characteristic scar tissue in his lungs and commented that he'd had valley fever at some point; he had no idea.

    I'm pretty sure I had it; I got an unexplained very high fever and "flu-like" muscle pains along with a cough, but no sinus congestion at the end of my first year there.

    • Won't the desert being the exact opposite environment that fungus would exist in?

      • by slew (2918)

        Won't the desert being the exact opposite environment that fungus would exist in?

        When it's in the dry desert soil, these fungi (Coccidioides immitis) are dormant. When it rains, it grows into mold and then yields spores. Then when it's dry again after a rainy spell, the spores detach and blow in the wind. The spores want an environment just like your lungs so if they happen to end up there, it's party time for them.

        How did this fungus get to located in the desert in the first place? Who knows, but it's there in the soil, probably longer that humans were around.

        Of course there are also

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:21PM (#44310473) Journal
    Organic and natural things are good for you, right?
    • The deadliest poisons are organic products.

      Botulitim
      Ricin
      Dart Frog Venom
      Beaked Sea Snake Venom
      Strychnine
      Amatoxin
      Fiddleback Spider Venom

  • Your pets can get this too, especially if they eat dirt. It's something to be aware of, since the vets took a couple of months figuring it out. It's the sort of thing if you want an expedited diagnosis you probably have to bring up yourself, so it's good to see it getting a little publicity so maybe doctors will become more aware in other parts of the country/world.

  • I lived in Phoenix, Arizona in the early 80s and seem to recall this being a problem there - only they called it Desert Fever. Phoenix was in the midst of a huge building boom and the "fever" was caused from all the building taking place...dust getting kicked up quite a bit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Desert fever was/is just another name for Valley Fever. I had it too and lived in Phoenix in the late 70's early 80's. It always freaked out my Doctors when they would see my lung x-rays. Loved having to explain that no I wasn't a smoker that was from valley fever and then having to teach them what coccidioidomycosis was to a MD.

  • by jayteedee (211241) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @01:41PM (#44310663)

    Why don't they tell people that the southwest is full of sharp plants???
    Why don't they tell people that the southwest if HOT???
    Why don't they tell people that "it's a dry heat"???
    Because most southwesterners already KNOW, that's why. Few people have problems from valley fever(1 in 1000, or 1 in 5000 depending on source). And all the medical people will test for it first when a patient comes in experiencing a bad "fever". Even the people that have it (or have noticeable symptoms) usually can overcome it themselves without any medical treatment.

    • Agreed. Every region has its quirks, and what's considered common in one place can be utterly foreign in another. In the US alone, we have a number of regional ailments or conditions, ranging from serious stuff like Lyme disease and West Nile virus to relatively benign stuff like hay fever or fire ants (which are apparently being displaced by crazy ants). Obviously there are concerns that are even more localized than those, but a capable doctor should be aware of most and should be asking if you've visited

  • Umm... They do. Valley Fever isn't some new mystery illness that's popped up in the last few years, it's been around for a long time and pretty much everyone who lives in areas where it's common knows about it (or at least I they should). Maybe this is news in the UK, but it's old hat here.
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      I'm from Texas and have been in or near the areas affected, and I've never heard of it.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @02:11PM (#44310897) Homepage

    In undeveloped countries, don't drink the water. In developed countries, don't breathe the air.

  • We had a prisoner of war camp in Arizona during WWII.

  • When I read the headline I thought it was something new and sinister to worry about, but valley fever? This is nothing new - at least here in Arizona. As a kid growing up here in the 70s and 80s there was a public service announcement on TV about it played pretty often (Channel 5 maybe?). (Imagine a scene in a small farming town, near a cotton or alfalfa field, on a hot, dry summer day. A tractor is discing a field in the background, kicking up a wall of dust behind it, in the warped light of the baking sum

  • Who's up for that???

  • Coccidiomycosis is all over the southwest, it's not incurable, and it's no flipping mystery why the incidence is increasing ... A couple of wet winters, some dry dusty summers and an influx of new residents with the attendant construction kicking up the dirt where the spores are ... and probably an easier diagnostic test. Instant epidemic. We had a surge of cases every fall in Phoenix if the dust storms had been severe.

    2/3 of the people who have antibodies against it thought they had a slight cold or had no

  • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @03:14PM (#44311389) Journal

    According to the linked story, Germany did not invoke the Geneva convention, the US preemptively decided to remove the prisoners because they thought it might be a violation to subject them to the conditions. It would have been rather odd for Nazi Germany to complain about treatment of people in camps, from what I understand about history ( primarily through a tv channel with history in the name of it ).

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