A San Francisco federal Judge is considering moving thousands of state prison inmates to other locations in order to protect them from an airborne fungus.
The fungus occurs natural in dry, dusty areas such as San Joaquin Valley, it is commonly referred to as "valley fever," according to Star Tribune.
Valley fever is responsible for over about three-dozen inmate deaths and is often misdiagnosed. It's a fungal infection that originates in certain region's soil.
J. Clark Kelso, the federal court-appointed official charged with controlling prison medical care has recommended inmates who are susceptible to the disease should be moved out of the area. This would mean transferring 3,250 of the 8,100 inmates in two prisons.
Recent studies found Filipino, black, and medically at-risk inmates were the most vulnerable to health complications related to valley fever. A doctor even suggested both affected prisons should be shut down completely.
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration suggested instead of taking immediate action, allowing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the affiliated National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to look into the illness first.
Moving so many inmates will conflict with another federal court order to reduce prison crowding statewide in order to improve the conditions of sick and mentally ill patients. The state wants to meet in the middle, and move 600 of the highest risk patients out while the CDC studies ways to keep the fungus from spreading.
Some ways the fungus could be contained would be to keep dust out of the building, cover dusty areas, and provide surgical masks to those who request them. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been aware of the fungus, called a "medical and public health emergency" by experts, since 2005
The state refused to spend $750,000 worth of improvements to one hospital in 2007, the investment would have aided in preventing the illness from spreading. The state spends about $23 million annually for the treatment of valley fever.
A statement issued by experts said delaying the process "shows a callous disregard for patient health and safety, [Which] raises a concern that it lacks the will, capacity, and leadership to maintain a system of providing constitutionally adequate medical health care."
About half of those infected with valley fever show no symptoms. When symptoms are present it manifests itself as a mild to severe flu. In the most serious cases the fungus can spread from the "lungs to the brain, bones, skin or eyes, causing blindness, skin abscesses, lung failure and occasionally death."