CDC Investigating Three Dozen Inmate Deaths From Valley Fever Fungus In 2 CA Prisons
SACRAMENTO — The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stepped in to investigate outbreaks of valley fever in two California prisons where more than three dozen inmates have died after contracting the fungal disease.
Staff from the Atlanta-based CDC met with state prison health officials Tuesday and another meeting is planned Thursday. California's health department formally asked for the assistance last week on behalf of a court-appointed monitor, who had previously requested repeatedly that state officials seek federal help.
The court receiver for prison healthcare, J. Clark Kelso, issued a directive this week that Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons relocate some 3,200 inmates deemed at increased risk of developing a fatal reaction to the fungus, including all African Americans and those over 55. On Wednesday, Kelso broadened his directive to also include inmates with certain forms of diabetes.
In a report to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson on Wednesday, Kelso accused the state of an "anemic response" to the rise in valley fever deaths, saying officials had done little beyond adding air filters and door seals to keep out fungus-tainted dust. Six years ago, the receiver asked prison officials to transfer high-risk inmates out of the two lockups near Coalinga in the Central Valley and to consider relocating all inmates if valley fever rates did not drop. As of this week, some 500 high-risk inmates remained in the two prisons.