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Central Valley

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Most people wouldn’t think of the San Joaquin Valley - California’s agricultural heartland - as a hotbed for sexually transmitted infections. But the agriculturally rich yet impoverished region has a significant and growing HIV/AIDS problem that’s troubling local health officials.

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The sustained fire power and reach of seven news outlets – combined with community outreach efforts – have yielded results as we approach the one-year anniversary of the new Reporting on Health Collaborative and its series on the toll of valley fever.

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California’s tally of valley fever cases dropped by more than 1,000 last year and some counties have also seen fewer cases in the early months of 2013. But public health officials say it’s too early to identify long-term trends in the numbers.

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Why is the high school dropout rate in the San Joaquin Valley among the highest in the California? CapRadio will produce a documentary that tells stories of youth and adults touched by the dropout crisis with accuracy, depth, nuance and respect.

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At age 52, Bakersfield Police Captain Archie Scott was healthy and extremely fit. Then valley fever ended his career. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” he said.

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Valley fever is a drain on taxpayers. An estimated 60 percent of valley fever-related hospitalizations - resulting in charges of close to $2 billion over 10 years in California alone - are covered by government programs.

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Valley fever starts with the simple act of breathing. In about 100 cases every year nationally the fever kills. That’s more deaths than those caused by hantavirus, whooping cough, and salmonella poisoning combined, yet all of these conditions receive far more attention from public health officials.

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What are the symptoms? Fever, a persistent cough that won’t go away, night sweats, weight loss, and different kinds of rashes. Once a person is infected with the fungus, it does not leave the body.

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Valley fever feeds on heat. And as the average temperature ticks up with each passing decade, experts are concerned that the fungus’ footprint and impact are expanding, as evidenced by a rise in cases in areas far outside the hot spots of the Central Valley of California.

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Interested in covering veterans' issues? Poynter News University has a webinar for you. Also, take a look at this week's handful of opportunities in web reporting and editing.

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