SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) –The federal receiver who controls medical care in California’s prisons is ordering thousands of high-risk inmates out of two Central Valley prisons in response to hundreds of hospitalizations and dozens of deaths due to valley fever.

Medical receiver J. Clark Kelso on Monday ordered the state corrections department to exclude black, Filipino and other medically risky inmates from the two prisons because they are more susceptible to the airborne fungal infection, which originates in the region’s soil.

The receiver’s office says the order will affect about 40 percent of the more than 8,200 inmates in Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons.

That creates problems for corrections officials who face a December court deadline to reduce overcrowding in prisons statewide.

The department said it was reviewing Kelso’s order.

Earlier, a medical expert said valley fever was spreading so quickly through the two prisons that he recommended the state act quickly to stem the outbreak or shut the institutions down.

In a sworn declaration to a federal judge in San Francisco, Dr. John Galgiani said the situation at the Pleasant Valley and Avenal prisons was a “public health emergency.”

Valley fever is a fungal infection that causes flu-like symptoms and can be lethal. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that according to Galgiani, 62 California prisoners died from 2006 through January 2013 after coming down with the disease.

His report did not specify how many of those deaths occurred at Pleasant Valley and Avenal. But he said those prisons had by far the highest rates of Valley fever.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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