Valley Fever: California's Silent Epidemic

Disease killed dozens of California inmates earlier this year

Medical experts are calling it a silent epidemic.

The disease known as Valley Fever is spreading here in California, hitting more people than ever before.

In just ten years, the number of cases has tripled, and if the trend continues countless people could be exposed.

Shaunak Roy is one person who knows the impact of Valley Fever.

He said he first noticed something was wrong during a trip to Phoenix when he felt intense pressure in his back.

After a few weeks of suffering he went to his doctor who said there was abnormal fluid build up in his abdomen. But his doctor couldn’t figure out what caused the build up.

Roy said he started doing his own research. “Once it became obvious that it was a big medical mystery, so to speak, because no one could figure out what was wrong with me, that's when I came to Stanford,” Roy said.

Infection diseases expert Dr. Stan Deresinsk threw out a diagnosis possibility no one had ever mentioned: coccidioidomycosis.

Coccidioidomycosis is technical name for Valley Fever.

Dr. Deresinsk describes it as a fungal infection that people breathe in. It spreads through the bloodstream.

The symptoms vary depending on where the spores lodge in your body.

“Perhaps 5-percent will develop a complication and some of those complications turn out to be life-threatening,” Deresinsk said.

The CDC has labeled Valley Fever a silent epidemic with more than 40-percent of patients requiring hospitalization. The average cost to treat it is $50,000 per hospital visit.

Doctors say there has been a dramatic increase in cases lately.

In California, according to the public health department there were 1,483 reported cases in 2001.

Ten years later – the number of cases more than tripled to 5,123. Dr. Deresinsk said experts don’t know why the numbers are increasing, adding it could be related to climatic factors.

Valley Fever has been in the news lately because it forced the California Department of Corrections to move 2,600 inmates from two prisons after the illness killed more than three dozen inmates at the Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons.

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