What Is Valley Fever?

Valley Fever has long plagued – and mystified – man. Although it has been studied for the past 100 years, it is a disease that has remained impossible to control and difficult to treat.

Endemic areas for Valley Fever

Endemic areas for Valley Fever

 

The development of a vaccine is considered the only way to prevent this disease that costs so much…not only in terms of dollars, but also in human suffering.

 

Dr. Hans Einstein

Dr. Hans Einstein, M.D. (1923-2012)

This disease is serious, and can be fatal. It exacts a tremendous toll in personal and community resources. Valley Fever can’t be eliminated, like smallpox and polio, but it can be controlled. We believe we have the basic knowledge, tools and people to develop a vaccine.

  • Find out more about Dr. Einstein’s contributions to Valley Fever.

 

What is it?

The technical name for Valley Fever is Coccidioidomycosis, or “Cocci” for short. It is caused by Coddidioides immitis, a fungus somewhat like yeast or mildew which lives in the soil. The tiny seeds, or spores, become wind-borne and are inhaled into the lungs, where the infection starts. Valley Fever is not contagious from person to person. It appears that after one exposure, the body develops immunity.Coccidiodes

Valley Fever is a sickness of degree. About 60 percent of the people who breathe the spores do not get sick at all. For some, it may feel like a cold or flu. For those sick enough to go to the doctor, it can be serious, with pneumonia-like symtoms, requiring medication and bed rest.

Of all the people infected with Valley Fever, one or more out of 200 will develop the disseminated form, which is devastating, and can be fatal. These are the cases in which the disease spreads beyond the lungs through the bloodstream – typically to the skin, bones, and the membranes surrounding the brain, causing meningitis.

We are finding an increase in the number of symptomatic Valley Fever cases. Also, a higher proportion of our patients are still sick one year after the infection. A significant number of patients suffer nervous system involvement, a very chronic, difficult-to-manage condition, often including dementia. A preventive measure is needed.

Ricardo Negroni, M.D.
Supervisor of Mycology,
Muniz Infectious Diseases Hospital
Professor of Microbiology, School of Medicine
University of Salvador, Buenos Aires

As evidenced by the 1990′s epidemic, Coccidioidomycosis is a formidable malady not exhibiting border discrimination. Mexico contains various domains of large case populations. In the territory I serve, Valley Fever has caused considerable death and debilitation. An effective vaccine will be a most valuable tool in the fight against this emerging disease.

Francis Gerard Delzio, M.D.
Baja California Norte, Mexico

 

Who gets it?

If you live in an endemic area, you may have had Valley Fever without even knowing it. In some endemic areas, it is estimated that as much as half of the population has been infected. Persons whose activities put them in much contact with the soil appear to have a somewhat greater risk. Once infected, persons of African, Filipino and some other Asian ancestries seem to be at a greater risk of contracting the more serious, or disseminated, form of the disease. The young, the old, and those with lowered immune systems are also in the high risk group. While men are at greater risk than women, pregnant women are especially vulnerable, particularly in the third trimester.

Jessica Gage

JESSICA GAGE

“These are my miracle babies,” says Jessica, a Valley Fever survivor who endured countless treatments and surgeries. When Jessical was 8 years old, a sudden pain in her side was the first indication of Valley Fever. The Cocci disseminated throughout her body, resulting in meningitis, for which she received amphotericin injections under the base of her skull from age 8 to 16. “They thought I was pretty brave, getting those big needles in the back of my neck. I’m so grateful to my dad, my doctor and God…A lot of friends I used to have treatments with are dead.”

 

Diagnosis

Usually, diagnosis is made on the basis of one or more of the following three tests: recovery of the Cocci organisms from sputum or some other body fluid; blood tests that reflect the body’s reaction to the presence of the fungus; and skin tests. These tests are quite reliable, but they may fluctuate according to the stage of the disease. Chest X-rays reveal some of the abnormalities associated with Cocci, but the shadows are difficult to distinguish from those of tuberculosis or some other lung disease.

Carola Rupert Enriquez

CAROLA RUPERT ENRIQUEZ

It was during a 1981 archeological dig at Sharktooth Hill – one of the few known areas where Cocci has been identified in the soil – that Carola Enriquez contracted Valley Fever. Even though an abscess developed in her finger, and later in her back, she was unaware of the cause until she was eventually diagnosed with “a rampant case of Valley Fever.” Enriquez says: “I’m fortunate I had a full recovery.”

 

William Keen

WILLIAM KEEN

William Keen spent a lifetime “in the dirt” riding in motocross competitions in the San Joaquin Valley before coming down with Valley Fever at age 65. “I thought for sure I’d already had it; I’ve been in the dust for so many years…It just shows you never know.” Bedridden and on oxygen for months during treatment with amphotericin, Keen says, “I know why they call it ‘ampho-terrible’…it feels worse than the disease.”

 

Treatment

Patients suffering from the flu-like symptoms of Cocci will be advised to rest. Most cases are mild and self-limited so there is no consensus on just when drug treatment should begin. However, once serious symptoms appear – including pneumonia or labored breathing – treatment should be prompt. Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” cure, as all antifungal drugs effective for Cocci have downsides and none actually kill the fungus – they inhibit its growth and rely on the body’s defenses to contain it. Although it has been the “gold standard” of treatment, Amphotericin B is the worst, according to patients, especially to those who have to have it injected beneath the base of their skull for meningitis. Its side effects include nausea, fever and kidney damage. Oral drugs include fluconazole, itraconazole and more recently, voriconazole and posaconazole.

 

Costs

The cost of this disease in personal and economic terms is enormous. In its serious form, Valley Fever devastates its victims and their families. Employers feel the burden in lost work days, weeks and even months. Workers Compensation claims drain even more resources.

Because many cases of Cocci are unreported, the figures are skewed. However, it’s estimated that there are 7,500 new cases of Cocci annually in the USA alone. This translates to a cost that may exceed $60 million a year.

The medical and indirect costs for people with the most benign illness range from $3,000 to $5,000 per case. For those who experience a more severe illness, costs climb from $30,000 to $300,000 – especially for those who get meningitis or who are hospitalized for a long time. The average is $8,000 per case overall.

John Caldwell Pharm.D.
Director of Clinical Research
Kern Medical Center

 

Steve Kujala

STEVE KUJALA

Valley Fever claims take quite a bit of Steve Kujals’s time. He became a specialist in the disease inadvertently, after coming down with a serious case himself. After undergoing emergency surgery for misdiagnosed appendicitis, Steve was informed he had advanced Cocci infection in his lungs. “It took months before I could return to work,” he said. “My experience has helped me appreciate the scope of the problem.”

 

Why is a vaccine needed?

Production of an effective vaccine, with public and private support, is the only way we can eliminate the personal and financial burden of this disease. As Valley Fever continues to take its toll, costs far exceed that of developing a vaccine. Preliminary research indicates that an effective vaccine could be developed within the next seven years at a cost of approximately $6 million.

 

What can you do?

We need your support. If you would like additional information or would like to donate to the vaccine efforts, donate via PayPal or send checks by mail. You may also inquire through email.

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Valley Fever Americas Foundation
P.O. Box 2752
Bakersfield, CA 93303
800.825.3387 (800.VAL.FEVR)
661.748.3230