December 30, 2007

A plague in Coalinga

You may have heard about the epidemic of valley fever at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, located in California's Central Valley. Today's news reported that more than 900 prisoners and 80 employees have been stricken.

The sometimes-lethal fungal infection is endemic to, and on the rise in, the American Southwest. Like something out of a body snatcher flick, the spores that cause it live in the soil, and are inhaled when the soil is disturbed.

"You don’t do stupid things like go out on windy days or dig in the dirt," the mayor of Coalinga was quoted as saying. (Eek!)

New construction is suspected in the alarming rise in cases at the prison, where 1 out of 10 prisoners now tests positive. News reports mention as a possible culprit an increase in custom-home construction in the out-of-the-way hamlet of Coalinga. But what the news reports aren't mentioning is the construction of a $400 million state hospital immediately adjacent to the prison. Coalinga State Hospital, built primarily to house the state's burgeoning population of civilly committed sex offenders, opened just two years ago, right before the peak in valley fever infections at the prison.

Coincidence? Hmm.

Whatever the cause of the plague, revelations of its ubiquity in Coalinga will likely add to the hospital's already massive problems in recruiting qualified professional staff.

See my previous posts on the Coalinga State Hospital woes here and here.