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 state spends more than $23 million each year treating inmates stricken by the disease – $9 million for hospital care, $2.4 million for antifungal care and $12 million guarding the patients – and soon may be paying much more because of a series of lawsuits by inmates claiming that their incarceration has resulted in a life sentence of pain and illness.
The latest suit, filed earlier this month in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of 58 current and former inmates, accuses the state of knowing for years that its Central Valley prisons were incubators for the incurable sickness, but doing nothing to address the problem.
The state has imposed on inmates “a lifelong, crippling, and sometimes fatal disease in addition to their lawfully determined sentences,” the suit claims.
Like several other suits pending in courthouses throughout California, the lawsuit seeks monetary damages to offset the medical costs inmates will face for the rest of their lives – $5,000 a year for antifungal medication to keep the disease in check, $1,000 annually for testing, and $25,000 in hospitalization expenses for inmates with the worst infections.
It also seeks punitive damages and alleges that state officials were negligent and reckless in housing at-risk inmates at prisons in areas where the airborne spores that cause the disease are prevalent in the Valley soil.