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By Michael Fagans / The Californian
BY WILLIAM HEISEL The Reporting on Health Collaborative
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will visit the San Joaquin Valley later this year to train health professionals and the public in recognizing and defending against valley fever, Rep. Kevin McCarthy said Monday after an in-depth meeting with the agency.
McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, talked with CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden about the challenges of fighting the neglected disease -- which sickens an estimated 150,000 people every year, mostly in California and Arizona.
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McCarthy said that the CDC will put on a symposium and invite researchers, public health officials, clinicians and advocates in late summer or early fall. He said he intends to ultimately work with researchers and public health officials to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health for a valley fever vaccine.
"The whole thing is to build awareness for the public and for us and to build awareness so we can get the vaccine, so I can drive the issue with the NIH at the same time," McCarthy said. "The CDC can project a dirt storm like we've had in the years before two days ahead of time. You could do that with schools so you're not outside. ... We could prevent a lot just by awareness."
McCarthy's announcement follows the publication of the Reporting on Health Collaborative's "Just One Breath" series investigating valley fever. The Californian is a member of the collaborative.
McCarthy also said that the CDC had agreed to perform some initial analysis regarding the scope and components of a clinical trial to determine the best treatment for the disease.
"What I would like to do in the short-term is a randomized clinical trial, because no facts are proven out there for the best treatment for valley fever," he said. "It's still unknown."
He said he would work with the CDC to determine, "what would the cost be, what would the size of the sample we would need to do, how large would we need to do it?"
McCarthy has enlisted help from Frieden, he said, to write a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration encouraging the office to waive a fee to put an FDA-approved skin test on the market.
Allermed, a San Diego firm specializing in skin tests and allergy-related products, has a skin test to more quickly tell doctors if a patient has been exposed to valley fever. The FDA approved the test in 2011, but the company chose not to bring the test to market because it does not want to pay an annual marketing free required by the FDA.
Allermed would pay more in fees to market the drug than it would take in, according to company vice president Scott Nielsen.
The FDA could waive the fee -- estimated at $628,000 -- if it believes that the threat to public health is a compelling, national issue.
"In speaking to the CDC, they see that this is a national issue," McCarthy said.
To actually fund a clinical trial on a valley fever treatment or a vaccine, McCarthy also suggested creating a prize to incentivize drug makers.
"What if we put up a prize for orphan drugs?" he said. "So companies could say it is worthwhile to go after. If we do get it, we get this prize. And you build the awareness that it's no longer viewed as an orphan disease. Everything builds upon itself to get you to a vaccine."
Rebecca Plevin and Tracy Wood contributed to this story.