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Valley fever treatment trials announced by federal officials

September 24, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • Panels at a solar farm in the Mojave Desert. Valley fever is caused by spores of a fungus that lives in the soils common to California's Central Valley, and building solar power plants can require scraping thousands of acres of land. There has been an outbreak of valley fever in San Luis Obispo County.
Panels at a solar farm in the Mojave Desert. Valley fever is caused by spores… (Tim Rue / Bloomberg )

BAKERSFIELD -- Federal health officials have announced they are planning clinical trials of two common treatments for valley fever.

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who has worked for several years to increase federal response to valley fever, says the clinical trials will raise awareness of the fungal disease and inch it closer to being combated with a vaccine. "That is our ultimate goal," he told a packed meeting hall of valley fever victims and survivors Monday evening in Bakersfield.

The study is being planned jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes for Health. The agencies hope to recruit local physicians to enroll patients who have symptoms of valley fever-related pneumonia. Half would immediately begin receiving a combination of drugs that include fluconazole, an anti-fungal medication. The other half would receive only a drug used for bacterial pneumonia.

The goal of the clinical trial is to determine if early treatment by the most commonly used anti-fungal drug makes a difference. However, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins warned those attending the crowded public forum during a research symposium on the disease that it would probably take a year before patients are actually recruited for the study, and four to five years more to learn the results.

Valley fever, the local term for coccidioidomycosis, is caused by spores of a fungus that lives in the soils common to California's Central Valley. Experts at the symposium said about 40% of the population in Kern County has contracted the fungus at some point, and 40% of those individuals develop symptoms that range from fever and weakness to pneumonia, meningitis and fungal growths that spread throughout their body.

Collins and other medical experts stress there is no known cure. Most individuals develop immunity to the fungus, but for others, it remains in the body. Current treatment consists of a lifelong regimen of drugs to prevent the fungus from spreading.

ALSO:

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Federal agency steps into valley fever investigation

On Twitter: @paigestjohn

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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