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Valley Fever Outbreaks Lead California to Move Inmates

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Tiny spores are causing major headaches for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) after a judge ordered the department to move thousands of high-risk inmates from two prisons that have been plagued by valley fever outbreaks in recent years.

On Tuesday, officials at the CDCR said they would comply with an order by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to move approximately 2,600 inmates from two prisons, although they said they did not know exactly where or when all the inmates would be moved.

Henderson ordered that the high-risk inmates in the Pleasant Valley Prison and the Avenal Prison be moved within 90 days, but officials could still ask for an extension.  The prisons are located 10 miles apart and are approximately 175 miles from San Francisco.

Valley fever, an infection caused by the coccidioides fungus, is prevalent in the dry soil of the West and Southwest, and often spreads through the air when dirt is disturbed or kicked up and then inhaled.  Symptoms include fever, chills or, in more severe cases, chronic pneumonia or meningitis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40 percent of those infected require hospitalization, and the disease can be fatal.

Henderson's ruling is based on the recommendations of J. Clark Kelso, the receiver in charge of health care for California's correctional facilities.

Those considered to be at a higher risk for contracting a severe form of the illness include African-Americans, Filipinos, pregnant women or anyone with a suppressed immune system or other medical problems, according to the CDC. Henderson elected not to follow Kelso's recommendations that inmates older than 55 be considered high risk, although they could be included at a later date.

The decision to remove prisoners based partially on race has lead to fears that the move could create additional security problems.

The order to move the prisoners comes at a difficult time for the department, which is already appealing an earlier court order to decrease the entire prison population by 10,000 by the end of the year.

Inmates who could be categorized as high risk could challenge their placement in either the Pleasant Valley or Avenal prisons, and inmates who don't want to be transferred from these locations could decline.

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