Avenal State Prison


Valley Fever Mold Testing

Hundreds of inmates have contracted Valley fever in recent years in an epidemic that has plagued state prisons in the Central Valley. The disease is more prevalent in that area of California and has contributed to the deaths of more than 30 inmates since 2005. Typically, symptoms of the disease include fatigue, fever, cough, night sweats, a shortness of breath and a rash on the upper body or legs.

The respiratory disease is not uncommon in California, especially in the southern San Joaquin Valley, where the fungal spores that cause it are in the soil and infect victims when the spores become airborne.

“The public health burden of Valley fever is substantial and has increased in recent years,” the CDC study states. “In 2011, over 20,000 cases were reported, most in Arizona or California.”

Most people who breathe in the spores do not get sick, and many of those who do become ill recover on their own, according to the CDC. For others, however, the disease never goes away.

The CDC cited infection rates among the state’s general population to be 11.7 per 100,000 people. In the Central Valley, the rate is much higher: 241 per 100,000 people.

The rates among inmates in prisons in the Central Valley are dramatically higher. At the two most affected prisons, where 83 percent of the state’s Valley fever cases have occurred, the rates were measured at the equivalent of 3,799 per 100,000 at Avenal and 6,911 per 100,000 at Pleasant Valley during the peak year of 2011.