Valley fever testing

There have been 3,343 cases of valley fever reported in the state this year.

Responding to a surge in cases and inconsistent reporting practices, a California assemblyman introduced legislation last week that would allocate millions of dollars to valley fever vaccine research and streamline information sharing.

The bill’s introduction comes in response to the Center for Health Journalism Collaborative’s years-long reporting series “Just One Breath,” which has exposed inconsistencies in how valley fever cases are tallied among local, state and federal health care agencies and highlighted the lack of attention and funding the disease receives compared to others. The Arizona Daily Star contributed to the series as part of the reporting group.

Assembly Bill 1279, sponsored by Bakersfield Democrat Rudy Salas, would bring $2 million to a California fund for valley fever vaccine research and create guidelines for how local, state and federal agencies report cases.

It’s unclear whether the $2 million could be spent on the development of treatments as well as vaccine projects, or if the funding could cross state lines.

Nikkomycin Z, for example, has shown promise in treating lab mice with valley fever, but has not attracted funding for human trials. The delta-CPS1 vaccine project is being developed for dogs and could lead to a human vaccine. Both are being developed in Arizona.

The reporting group has found that lag times and disparities in reporting of cases are so great that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control would not know the full extent of a valley fever outbreak until months after it occurred.

Valley fever is an infectious respiratory disease found mainly in dusty areas of Arizona and California. When the soil is disturbed, coccidioidal fungal spores are swept into the air, and if inhaled can lead to valley fever. Most who are infected don’t present symptoms, but others become severely ill, developing flu-like conditions and extreme fatigue. In rare cases it is fatal.

In Arizona alone, an estimated 30,000 people get sick from valley fever every year. State health officials say it caused the deaths of 50 people in Arizona in 2015.