The federal official in charge of healthcare in California prisons has directed that more than 3,000 inmates be moved out of state lockups that are infected with a lethal fungus known as valley fever.
The Monday directive from medical receiver J. Clark Kelso requires state officials to “exclude” especially vulnerable inmates from Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons near Coalinga in the Central Valley. The list includes HIV-infected inmates, prisoners with chronic medical conditions, African Americans, Filipinos and others of Asian descent.
“The state of California has known since 2006 that segments of the inmate population were at a greater risk for contracting valley fever,” Joyce Hayhoe, Kelso’s spokeswoman, said Monday. “Immediate steps are necessary to prevent further loss of life.”
Of the more than 8,200 inmates at the two prisons, the medical receiver estimates 40%—or 3,280—must be moved immediately.
It is not clear why certain populations are more prone to the infection than others. But from 2008 to 2010, at least 355 prisoners required hospitalization, and the receiver reported 34 deaths related to valley fever from 2006 to 2011, most of the victims African Americans.
Health officials say they don’t know whether African Americans are more apt to contract the fungus, or more likely to become seriously ill when they do.