PHOENIX — Major strides have been made in raising national awareness of an insidious respiratory disease endemic to both Arizona and California, congressional representatives from the two states say.
But there is still no prevention or cure for valley fever, which is endemic to Southern Arizona and is potentially fatal. More than 7,000 cases were reported in Arizona last year, but it remains under-reported and misdiagnosed because it is so regional and the symptoms are similar to pneumonia.
Greater awareness and a randomized trial on treating valley fever are recent accomplishments, though more work needs to be done to fight a disease that has gone under-recognized, U.S. Rep. and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. told an audience of reporters and medical professionals at Banner — University Medical Center Phoenix Monday afternoon.
The next step will be pushing for a valley fever vaccine, said McCarthy, who along with U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., is co-chair of the Congressional Valley Fever Task Force, which was created in 2013. Schweikert also spoke at today's event.
McCarthy and Schweikert were part of a valley fever symposium held in 2013 in Bakersfield, Calif., which an area where valley fever, officially called coccidioidomycosis, is endemic. They say that since that time, awareness among officials with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased, as has outreach to physicians.
The four U.S. counties with the highest number of valley fever cases are Kern County in California, which includes Bakersfield, as well as Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties in Arizona.
Arizona accounts for two-thirds of all valley fever cases in the U.S. There were 7,622 cases reported in Arizona in 2015, though researchers and clinicians say the number is vastly under-reported. In 2014 there were 42 deaths in Arizona attributed to valley fever.
Data on deaths from valley fever in 2015 will not be available until next month, state health officials say.
McCarthy and Schweikert also touted a $9.7 million two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a randomized trial to determine the safety and efficacy of the anti-fungal fluconazole in treating valley fever.
The grant money was awarded to the Duke University, which is partnering with academic leaders and health systems in endemic areas, including the University of Arizona and Banner Health.
The University of Arizona will receive about $1.9 million of the grant money over the next two years, said Dr. John Galgiani, who is director of the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence.
There is not currently any data on Fluconazole and valley fever, he said. Fluconazole is used to treat the disease, though it's not a cure.
The study will run over 72 months and require 1,000 adults with signs of pneumonia to participate. Half will receive Fluconazole and the remainder will receive a placebo.
The Congressional Valley Fever Task Force is aimed at improving awareness, reducing the risk of misdiagnoses, and finding a viable cure. The task force also is also seeking to raise awareness and initiate dialogue within the medical community about valley fever.
Galgiani noted that the Arizona Medical Board gives out 1,000 new physician licenses per year, but many of those doctors either did not go to medical school or did not do their residency here. And for that reason, they could fail to recognize valley fever, resulting in either a delayed or missed diagnosis.