Judge considers effect of fungus on Calif. inmates - New York News

Judge considers effect of fungus on Calif. inmates

Posted: Updated:

By MIHIR ZAVERI and DON THOMPSON Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - An attorney representing inmates at two Northern California prisons told a federal judge on Monday that an airborne fungus occurring in the San Joaquin Valley presents enough of a deadly threat to some inmates at the facilities that they should be transferred immediately.

The fungus causes a disease known as valley fever. Warren George, of the Prison Law Office, said 18 inmates died from complications relating to the fungus in 2012 and the first month of 2013 and more inmates would die if the court waited any longer.

"It will go on, delay means more death," George said.

George rejected state officials' argument that the judge should wait until two national agencies complete studies of the fungus at the prisons before making his decision. The judge made no immediate ruling Monday.

Nearly three-dozen inmate deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations at Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons have been blamed on the fungus that causes valley fever. About half of the infections from the fungus produce no symptoms, while most of the rest can produce mild to severe flu-like symptoms. In a few cases the infection can spread from the lungs to the brain, bones, skin or eyes, causing blindness, skin abscesses, lung failure and occasionally death.

Medical studies have found that black, Filipino and medically at-risk inmates are more vulnerable to health problems from the illness, which is a fungal infection that originates in the region's soil. The disease is not known to spread from person to person.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of valley fever cases rose by more than 850 percent nationwide from 1998 through 2011. Valley fever cases in California rose from about 700 in 1998 to more than 5,500 cases in 2011, with the biggest increase in the region where the two prisons are located.

The corrections department has known about what the experts called a "medical and public health emergency" at the two prisons since 2005.

The state thwarted a previous study by the CDC in 2008 and balked at spending $750,000 for improvements at one of the prisons in 2007 because of the high cost. Yet the experts noted the state spends more than $23 million annually to treat inmates hospitalized with valley fever

The federal court-appointed official who controls prison medical care, J. Clark Kelso, has said that inmates who are particularly susceptible to the disease should be moved out of Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons.

Walter Schneider, an attorney representing the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson that the CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health should be allowed to study the issue before the court orders the transfer of 3,250 of 8,100 inmates at the prisons.

"I can tell you both CDC and NIOSH inspected these institutions in early June," Schneider said. "We're expecting preliminary answers to some of our questions."

He said the full study would be completed in six months. The department has already upgraded all its air filtration systems in the prisons' housing units and provided the staff and inmates additional medical training, he said. He also said the state is already in the process of transferring out certain high-risk inmates.

Schneider, additionally, said that such a large transfer of prison inmates would constitute an inmate release order, something that would require a three-judge panel and a full evidentiary hearing.

California Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has argued in court filings that it is impractical to move so many inmates while the state struggles to comply with another federal court order requiring it to reduce prison crowding statewide as a way to improve conditions for sick and mentally ill inmates.

The state wants to move about 600 medically high-risk inmates out of the two prisons by August while experts study whether other steps can cut down on the dust that carries the fungus. That includes covering dusty areas, keeping more dust from entering buildings and giving surgical masks to inmates and employees who request them.

Kelso, and three court-appointed medical experts, argued in court filings last month that the state's resistance not only is potentially deadly to vulnerable inmates, but demonstrates that California is not yet ready to retake control of inmate medical care in the state's 33 adult prisons.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Didn't find what
you were looking for?

  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Andy Golub's NYC Bodypainting Day

    Andy Golub's NYC Bodypainting Day

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 10:43 PM EDT2014-07-31 02:43:52 GMT
    The saying art is autobiographical takes on a whole new meaning when your canvas is a fully nude human body, as it is for artist Andy Golub. Andy along with 30 other artists and 45 Technicolor models paraded around several Manhattan hotspots over the weekend for NYC Body Painting day. Believe or not, this is completely legal in New York City.
    The saying art is autobiographical takes on a whole new meaning when your canvas is a fully nude human body, as it is for artist Andy Golub. Andy along with 30 other artists and 45 Technicolor models paraded around several Manhattan hotspots over the weekend for NYC Body Painting day. Believe or not, this is completely legal in New York City.
  • Protestors rally against NYPD's 'broken windows' policing

    Protestors rally against NYPD's 'broken windows' policing

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 10:07 PM EDT2014-07-31 02:07:39 GMT
    Emotions about police brutality were still raw at a protest in Harlem Wednesday night. Eric Garner died after police put him in an apparent choke hold. Cops stopped garner for the minor offense of selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. Officers had been enforcing the so-called broken windows policy.
    Emotions about police brutality were still raw at a protest in Harlem Wednesday night. Eric Garner died after police put him in an apparent choke hold. Cops stopped garner for the minor offense of selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. Officers had been enforcing the so-called broken windows policy.
  • Fatal skydiving accident on Long Island

    Fatal skydiving accident on Long Island

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 9:13 PM EDT2014-07-31 01:13:49 GMT
    Police on Long Island say one person has died and another has been seriously injured in a skydiving accident. Riverhead police say it happened at about 4 p.m. Wednesday at Skydive Long Island in Calverton. Police say the injured person was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital in critical condition.
    Police on Long Island say one person has died and another has been seriously injured in a skydiving accident. Riverhead police say it happened at about 4 p.m. Wednesday at Skydive Long Island in Calverton. Police say the injured person was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital in critical condition.
Powered by WorldNow
Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices